NaNoWriMo Word Count: 1,707
Lyndale Avenue was clogged with snow banks on both sides of the street. The hard-packed crust of ice covering the pavement was grimy and slick, treacherous even wearing snowboots. What Dagen needed were his Yaktracks packed in one of three duffle-bags he’d left in his room at the Foshay. The Rainbow Taxi driver at least pulled up to the parking lot entrance to the Wedge Co-op so he didn’t have to battle his way over a snowbank.
“Here’s a tip. I’ll call for a ride back,” Dagen said handing over cash to the driver. Then he grumbled, more to himself, “When are they going to put a co-op downtown or a nice hotel uptown?”
The taxi driver, seeming eager to please, answered, “Whole Foods is coming downtown.”
Dagen looked directly at the driver, his navy-blue stocking cap nearly covered all but a few chestnut-colored curls that wound beneath its edge. Not many could take the intensity of his stare, blue-green eyes beneath thick dark-brown eyebrows. “Whole Foods is not a co-op,” he said slowly. “Do not tell a Finn from northern Minnesota to go to Whole Foods.”
The taxi-driver nodded, his dark brown eyes wide. Driving off, Dagen realized that man was probably a Samolian immigrant working two jobs without any idea what a Finn from northern Minnesota was. He sighed, reminding himself to leave his celebrity ego in his back pocket. He was on home turf now.
Walking into the co-op he could smell ripe produce, baking bread and patchouli all at once. A slender youth in a green apron was stacking a display of butternut squash, watched by two winter-clad toddlers, waiting for their mother to bag apples. The cashier lanes each had two or three shoppers checking out. The place was hopping but not so busy as to be crowded.
Dagen asked the produce stocker, “If I want to order a case of lemons and some bulk items, where do I go?”
“A case of lemons?” he asked, tossing a squash back and forth between his hands like a basketball. “Go to the customer service desk in the back, but what do you need that many lemons for?”
“Water,” Dagen replied as he walked off toward the back corner. Across from a long cooler of organic dairy and milk from “green cows” a young woman with a mass of ashen-blond dreadlocks pulled back by a paisley scarf of red, yellow and turquoise was frowning at a computer screen. Dagen stood, pulling off each snug leather glove as he waited for her attention. She pounded at the keys, looked again at the screen, deepening her frown.
“Excuse me,” Dagen said, standing ready as if the local media was gathering to interview him.
When she looked up, he noticed she had big blue eyes and a scooped nose that spoke of Norwegian descent. Minnesota, the land of farming Oles and pretty Lenas. She might have dreadlocks, but she was definitely a Lena. “Yes?” she said, without a smile.
“Is milk from green cows really green?” he said, not smiling back.
Her left eyebrow arched higher and she tilted her head to the side as if to look for another employee to handle this one. “Um…no…just like chocolate milk doesn’t necessarily come from brown cows.”
He smiled broadly and she tossed her mass of dreadlocks and laughed heartily. “Okay. Just tell me you’re joking and I’ll stop thinking you’re some creeper.”
“Creeper? Do you call all your customers that?”
“Just the weird ones and you wouldn’t believe the questions I get. And, they’re not joking.”
“Well, now that I’ve torn you away from whatever fascinating mess you have on your computer screen, I’d like to order a few things by the case,” said Dagen, pulling out a list from inside his tan Patagonia trench coat pocket.
“Oh, just can’t seem to get the PLU number for another order. I’ll get it figured out. So, do you need a case of green milk?” she asked.
Reading her name-tag, Dagen said, “No, Miriam M., no green milk this time.” He handed her his list.
“Hmmm,” she mumbled as she read through the list then grabbed a white half-page form with an attached pink carbon copy. She picked up a pen from the counter between them. “Your name,” she asked without looking up.
“Dr. Dagen Starkka.”
“No way! I thought you looked familiar…really? The sled-dog doc from the History Channel? Oh my God, I totally watch your show!” Her smile now lit up her blue eyes and Dagen thought perhaps she was younger than he first surmised.
“Yep. Back home. But just for a bit.”
“Home? You’re from Minneapolis?”
“Minnesota. Up nort, dere doncha know,” he said, imitating the long-o, sing-song accent that many Minnesotans still had, a gift from their Scandinavian ancestors.
“Ha! Well, an Ole from Hollywood,” she said.
“Not exactly Hollywood. We film in Norway and technically I live in Newport Beach. And, I’m not an Ole…even though, I film in Norway.”
She looked at his name, and back at him, asking, “Finnish?”
“Good answer.” Dagen was genuinely pleased. Too many people thought he was Russian or Czechoslovakian or from San Francisco.
“Where up north?”
“You probably never heard of it,” he said.
“Try me. I love the northshore, but if its off by Fargo I might not know it.”
“Brimson, and yes, it’s off the northshore.”
“Really? I’ve never heard of it before,” she said.
“Out of Two Harbors, east about 20 miles. Not much more than a jumble of old Finnish homesteads and saunas. Not really Finnish anymore, either.”
She thought for a moment, then said, “Saunas up north are just the best.”
“Yes and no. Growing up it was how we bathed and I think I prefer hot showers not followed by a plunge in a cold lake. I’m also fond of indoor plumbing. How about that list?”
“Oh, yeah. My bad. Got distracted,” she said. “Okay. One case of lemons?”
“Ten pounds of farina?”
“Five pounds of peanut butter?”
“Four cases of Clif Energy Bars, apricot…do you mean a case or a box?”
“How many in a box,” Dagen asked.
He scratched his forehead where his hat snugged against his curls. “Four boxes, then. Can I order by the box?”
“Sure,” Miriam said. “Okay. Ten pounds of rice and five pounds of dried refried black beans?”
She looked at him with her eyebrow arched again, then asked, “You aren’t going to eat five pounds of dried beans all by yourself are you?”
Dagen smiled. “Certainly. And add three pounds of dried apricots to the list.”
“I hope you will access to outside and fresh air.”
“I’ll be in a tent,” he said with a smile.
“Just me and some dogs, maybe a guide. He’ll probably want his own tent.”
“Within a day or two, he’ll want his own tent,” Miriam said. “So, are you going home to winter camp?”
“Just getting supplies and meeting an old friend before I fly out to Ottawa,” he answered.
“What’s in Ottawa?”
“A plane to Baffin Island, up in the Northwest Territories.”
“You mean the arctic?”
“That would be correct.”
“You must like snow.”
He laughed and then added, “I can’t seem to escape it.”
“Cool. Are you starting series up there?”
“No, actually, I’m working my science degree angle, collecting some ice cores and recording snow conditions, the state of glaciers, the retreating sea ice.”
“I thought you were a veterinarian,” she said.
Dagen shook his head. “A common mistake. The show is about sled dogs in Norway and how they were used historically, but they refer to me as ‘Doc’ because I’m a climate scientist. You might say that I specialize in snow.”
“That and Hollywood smiles,” said Miriam.
“Well, I won’t smile much in the arctic. My teeth might freeze and then I’d loose my agent.”
“Poor Doc. Well, we’ll get you supplied. When do you need this?”
“Is it possible to get it within 5 days?” Dagen asked.
“We’ll place the order tomorrow. Shouldn’t be a problem. We own our own warehouse, but a few things might have to come from other suppliers. Can I get a number and I’ll call you?”
“You want my number?” he asked.
“For your order, Dr. Starkka. I thought you were in town, meeting an old friend,” she added.
“On old, old friend, an old guy friend. Last I saw him he had a white beard hairy enough to hide a small nest of squirrels. Not the sort to take to French Meadow for coffee.”
“Are you asking me out to French Meadow?”
“Well, just coffee,” he said.
“Maybe. I’ll call you about your order tomorrow. Maybe coffee.”
“All right. Until tomorrow.” Dagen walk away from the counter, wondering what got into him, asking out a co-op girl just because she had big blue eyes. He realized that she looked like home to him. He wasn’t sure what was home, anymore. His mom had passed away three years ago and he’d lost his dad in a boating accident on Lake Superior when he was 12. Actually, they never found his father’s body, just his boat, floating upside down as the waves battered it against the rocky shoreline.
Dagen thought about the the women he usually met, who looked at him like he was just a good-looking paper doll to dress and undress and easily discard. He didn’t know which was lonelier, the remote set in Norway or the endless pool parties in California. Where he grew up was certainly lonely, too. He remembered carving into the wooden ceiling above his bed, “I want to go to town.” His dad made him sand the plea, but two weeks later they drove the truck down to Duluth. He smiled to himself, remembering when he thought Duluth was huge and exotic with its zoo and sea-going ships.
Grabbing an oatmeal cookie with cranberries from the co-op bakery, Dagen walked to the front of the store to pay for it. While standing in line, he called the Rainbow taxi service. He hoped the co-op girl would call, and not just for his order. He hadn’t felt this sense of home in a long time.