Where the fire god lives

May 20, 2013 at 8:26 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Here is what she knows about Iceland.

Any horse who leaves the country can never return.

The Icelandic word for goodbye is bless.

Roads are rerouted to avoid underground elf homes.

And she will never go.

She keeps her Reykjavik guidebook close. She pulls it out on the tram and slides a finger down the spine and into the depths. Certain pages show her longing; a coffee stain on the flea market at Kolaportið, tobacco flakes on the bookstore at Skólavörðustígur. She doesn’t know how to speak Icelandic but she would try, lord knows she would try, her throat aching to make the sounds.

She would open her mouth and watch the words spiral out, snowflakes catching on their edges.

She reads about shark meat left to ferment underground. After three months it’s dug up, rolled in salt, and washed down with caraway schnapps. She wonders if she would gag at the ripe ammonia smell, covering the spasm with the back of her hand.

She reads about winter blizzards over the black volcanic soil where tourists are discovered, weeks too late, with snow piled over the roofs of their cars. And she knows she wouldn’t be found clutching the door handle when they scraped the ice from her windscreen.

She drinks down these words as the tram clanks by, sliding a fingertip between her breasts to wipe away the sweat of an Australian summer. A blowfly lands on the cracked window as the passengers moan about the heat, and try to unstick their damp thighs from the vinyl seats.

Here is what she knows about Iceland.

The heart of the Arctic whale weighs more than one tonne.

Hot water from the taps stinks of sulphur.

Strip clubs were outlawed a decade ago.

And she will never go.

She glances out the window. She watches the football ground flash by, blackbirds swooping over sun-bleached grass, and then turns back to her guidebook. She raises her pen and with thin, vicious strokes, underlines all the places she won’t see.

She reads that fifty years ago, a volcanic eruption off the coast of Iceland sent plumes of black smoke spiralling into the sky. Out of the churning waves rose a new island, one square mile across, spitting lava into the ocean. She strikes her pen underneath the Norse fire god who lent it his name, Surtsey, and keeps reading.

Over time birds came to roost, mosses and lichens formed, and spiders nested into the black volcanic soil. But no human has ever lived there, in a land at the top of the world where isolation is constant and the northern lights snake across the winter sky.

Someone pulls the tram cord as the man next to her hums. She keeps reading. She frowns, and slides the top of the pen between her lips. She’s looking at a small triangular hut on the north side of Surtsey, a shelter for the shipwrecked. She’s looking at the rusted roof, and she’s already seeing her hand on the door, pushing it open.

She would have burnt wine in her coffee as she looked out at the ocean, standing at the cliff’s edge. She would have no words on her tongue but it would be all right, for once it would be all right, as she stood and watched the waves roll in, and remembered a time when she was still brave enough to set sail for new lands.

She chews on the end of her pen as the tram doors hiss open.

Here is what she knows about Iceland.

In the Middle Ages it was thought to be the mouth of hell.

Icelanders read more books than any other nation.

The fur of the Arctic fox changes colours with the seasons.

And she will never go.

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