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Fiction From the October 2011 issue: Writing from Iceland


2093

2093

He lies and dreams. A great ash tree spreads out its crown and girls come with buckets and water its roots. He tosses and turns, then looks up. Beside him sits a gray-haired woman, stroking his hand. The veins stand out like those on a leaf.

“You’re as beautiful as ever, Dísa dear,” he says, closing his eyes. They always used to dance in the kitchen. His daughters wet a cloth and wash his feet. He lies still, thinking about Arctic terns.

***

I walk into the bedroom and see that he is toothless. I’ve never seen him without his teeth before. My great-aunt turns him over, making him more comfortable in bed. He’s wearing a diaper. Dad comes in and lays my brother in bed beside him. He’s toothless and wearing a diaper. Great-granddad has lived for eighty-seven years. He was born in autumn. If my brother gets to live as long, he’ll still be alive in . . .

It’s a hard sum to work out. 87 + 2006. Great-granddad opens his eyes and smiles at me.

“Hello, my boy,” he says.

“What’s 87 + 2006?”

Great-granddad thinks and swallows. He has difficulty swallowing.

“It’s 2093,” he says.

“2093!”

On my last visit he told me about the goddess of fate.

“She ordered me to marry your great-grandmother. I just did what I was told and have never regretted it.”

“Have you seen her?” I asked.

“No, no one can see her; she doesn’t have enough power to make herself visible.”

“Do they really exist?” I ask.

“Yes, and trolls exist too. They’re the cleverest creatures on earth.”

To be “as thick as a troll” is to be really clever. He made a hammer for me when I was born and wrote my name on it. Though it’s not my name. It says “Brimir Snjár” on the hammer. Mom thought the name was weird. But I think it’s really cool.

***

Great-granddad will eat anything. “Anything except people,” he used to say sometimes, with a grin. When he was nine he tricked his nanny into cooking a fox for him.

“Did it taste nice?”

“No, we ran out of the kitchen when she pulled it out of the pan,” he said with a laugh.

He’ll eat anything except people and foxes.

He was born up north, where there were no trees. He was nine when he saw a leafy tree for the first time. The beaches were covered in trunks of driftwood with great crooked roots like witches’ hands. He often whittled people and animals from bits of wood that washed ashore.

Once Great-granddad told me about the war. About the time he sailed on a fishing boat to Britain and saw people floating like matchwood on the sea.

“Were they dead?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Who did it?” I asked.

“Wicked witches,” he said.

“You mean bad men?”

“No, not bad men, wicked witches.”

Next time we met he was too tired to talk about the war. And the time after that I was playing a computer game, but Dad sat with him in the kitchen.

2093. I write the number on a piece of paper.

***

Once we were sitting by the spring below the deserted farm, looking out to sea.

“Shut your eyes and listen,” he said.

I shut my eyes.

He counted up the birds that piped and screeched around us.

“Arctic tern, eider duck . . . plover, whimbrel, sandpiper . . . snipe, great black-backed gull, Arctic skua . . . great northern diver, black-headed gull . . .”

We got up to ten birds right away.

“Can I open my eyes?” I asked.

“Be patient,” he said. Then we heard a raven and then a red-throated diver.

“Twelve,” I said.

“Just a little longer.” A male ptarmigan belched. I opened my eyes and three swans flew over the lagoon. “Do you know what the Arctic tern is called in Latin?” he asked.

“What?” I asked.

Sterna paradisea. The bird of paradise. It can fly right round the globe but of all the places in the world it ends up right here: in paradise.”

***

“Twenty ninety-three.” Those were the last words Great-granddad ever said to me.

When I came home from school today Dad was waiting for me in the living room.

I knew something was up. He gave me a hug.

“Your great-grandfather is dead,” said Dad. “He died this morning.”

My sister is four. But she doesn’t understand anything.

“Is he dead?”

“Yes,” says Dad.

“Can I bury him?”

“No, he’s not going to be buried yet. We’re going to say good-bye to him.”

“Can’t he talk?”

“No, he can’t talk.”

“Not even if we tickle him?”

“No, no one’s allowed to tickle him. You must be a good girl,” says Dad.

She sings all the way: “Great-granddad’s dead, Great-granddad’s dead.”

The little red house is full of people. Mom and Dad embrace everyone and Great-grandma too. Granddad is there. Now his daddy is dead.

“Why’s everyone crying?” asks my sister.

I don’t want to cry in front of everyone.

“Do you want to see him?” asks Mom. I get a knot in my stomach.

“Can we see him?”

“Yes, he looks as if he’s sleeping. You don’t need to see him if you don’t want to.”

I give the matter careful thought.

“I want to see him,” I say.

Mom opens the door. Great-granddad is lying in bed as if he’s asleep. He’s got his teeth in again.

“He’s with God now,” says Mom.

“Let’s buy a real-life magic wand and make him stop being dead,” says my sister.

I expected to be afraid, but he was nothing like a ghost, he was just exactly like Great-granddad. I walked over to him and stroked his hands. They were soft but cold. I stroked his head; his forehead was cold but he was still my great-granddad. I bent down to him:

“Dear Great-granddad,” I whispered.

“Are you OK?” asked Mom.

I couldn’t really answer. I couldn’t say yes because I was sad that he was dead, but I couldn’t say I felt bad because he obviously didn’t feel bad.

“I can’t answer that,” I said.

Later I went back into his room and sat beside him. I felt as if he might wake up any minute and start counting birds.

***

Everything in the room was old; the pictures were old, his old pinstriped suit hung on a peg, and the wallpaper was silvery, with a strange pattern. There were pictures of children on the walls. Once this house was full of children. Now the children are grandfathers and grandmothers. There were Christmas decorations in the window still, though Christmas was over. I felt as if his things were dead too. A collage of angels and a forest hung above his bed.

Sterna paradisea. He’s reached the north, then.”

2093. It would be a long lifeline.

Translation of “2093.” © Andri Magnason. By arrangement with the author. Translation ©2011 by Victoria Cribb. All rights reserved.

Hann liggur og dreymir. Stór askur breiðir út krónuna og stúlkur bera
vatn í fötu og vökva ræturnar. Hann byltir sér og lítur upp. Hjá honum
situr gráhærð kona og strýkur hönd hans, hún er æðaber eins og
laufblað.
– Þú ert alltaf jafn fögur Dísa mín, segir hann og lokar augunum.
Þau dönsuðu alltaf í eldhúsinu. Dætur hans bleyta þvottapoka og þrífa
fætur hans. Hann liggur og hugsar um kríur.

--- --- ---

Ég geng inn í svefnherbergið og sé að hann er tannlaus. Ég hef aldrei
séð hann tannlausan. Afasystir mín hagræðir honum í rúminu, hún snýr
honum, hann er með bleyju. Pabbi kemur inn og leggur yngstu systur
mína í rúmið hjá honum. Hún er tannlaus og með bleyju. Hann hefur
lifað í 87 ár. Hún fæddist í haust.
Ef systir mín fær að lifa jafn lengi þá verður hún ennþá til árið ...
það er erfitt að reikna það út. 87 + 2006. Langafi opnar augun og
brosir til mín.
–Sæll vinur minn, segir hann.
¬–Hvað eru 87+2006?
Afi hugsar sig um og kyngir. Hann á erfitt með að kyngja.
–Það eru 2093, segir hann.
2093!

Í síðustu heimsókn sagði hann mér frá örlagadísinni.
–Hún skipaði mér að giftast henni ömmu þinni. Ég gerði bara eins og
mér var sagt og hef aldrei séð eftir því.
–Hefurðu séð hana? spurði ég.
–Nei, enginn getur séð hana, hún hefur ekki nægan kraft til að sýna sig.
–Eru þær til í alvöru? spurði ég.
–Já, og tröllin eru líka til. Þau voru gáfuðustu skepnur á jörðinni.
Að vera tröllheimskur er að vera mjög gáfaður.
Hann smíðaði hamar handa mér þegar ég fæddist og skrifaði nafnið mitt
á hann. Samt er það ekki nafnið mitt. Á hamrinum stendur Brimir Snjár.
Mömmu fannst nafnið of skrítið. Mér finnst það frekar flott nafn.

--- --- ---

Langafi borðar allt. Allt nema fólk, sagði hann stundum og glotti.
Þegar hann var níu ára plataði hann fóstruna sína til að sjóða fyrir
sig tófu.
–Var hún góð á bragðið?
–Nei, við flúðum úr eldhúsinu þegar hún dró hana upp úr pottinum,
sagði hann og hló.
Hann borðar allt nema fólk og tófur.

Hann fæddist fyrir norðan, þar voru engin tré. Hann var níu ára þegar
hann sá laufgað tré í fyrsta skipti. Fjörurnar voru fullar af
rekaviðardrumbum með stórar kræklóttar rætur eins og nornahendur. Hann
tálgaði oft menn og dýr úr spýtum sem rak á land.

Einu sinni sagði langafi mér frá stríðinu. Þegar hann sigldi með
fiskiskipi til Bretlands og sá fólk fljóta eins og spýtur í sjónum.
–Hver gerði þetta? spurði ég.
–Grimmar nornir, sagði hann.
–Þú meinar vondir menn?
–Nei, ekki vondir menn, grimmar nornir.
Næst þegar við hittumst var hann of þreyttur til að tala um stríðið.
Þarnæst var ég að spila tölvuleik en pabbi sat með honum inni í
eldhúsi.
2093 – ég skrifa töluna á blað.

--- --- ---

Við sátum einu sinni við lindina fyrir neðan eyðibýlið og horfðum út á sjó.
– Lokaðu augunum og hlustaðu, sagði hann.
– Ég lokaði augunum .
 Hann taldi upp fuglana sem píptu og görguðu í kringum okkur.
–Kría, æðarkolla ... lóa, spói, sendlingur ... hrossagaukur,
svartbakur, kjói ... himbrimi, hettumáfur ...
Við komumst strax upp í tíu fugla.
–Má ég opna augun? spurði ég.
Bíddu rólegur, sagði hann. Þá heyrðum við í krumma og síðan kom lómur.
–Tólf, sagði ég. –Bíddu aðeins lengur. Þá ropaði karri. Ég opnaði
augun og þrjár álftir flugu yfir lónin. –Veistu hvað krían heitir á
latínu? spurði hann.
–Hvað? spurði ég.
–Sterna Paradisea. Hún er paradísarfuglinn. Hún getur flogið kringum
allan hnöttinn og af öllum stöðum í heiminum lendir hún einmitt hér:
Paradís.

--- --- ---

2093, það voru síðustu orðin sem langafi sagði við mig.
Þegar ég kom heim úr skólanum í dag beið pabbi eftir mér inni í stofu.
Ég vissi að eitthvað hafði gerst. Hann tók utan um mig.
–Hann langafi þinn er dáinn, sagði pabbi. Hann dó í morgun.

Systir mín er fjögurra ára. Hún skilur samt ekki neitt.
–Er hann dáinn?
–Já, segir pabbi.
–Má ég grafa hann?
–Nei, hann verður ekki grafinn strax, við ætlum að kveðja hann.
–Getur hann ekki talað?
–Nei, hann getur ekki talað.
–En ef við kitlum hann?
–Nei það má ekki kitla hann, þú skalt vera þæg, sagði pabbi.
Hún syngur alla leiðina, –Afi minn er dáinn, afi minn er dáinn.
Litla rauða húsið er fullt af fólki. Mamma og pabbi faðma fólkið og ömmu.
–Af hverju eru allir að gráta? spyr systir mín.
Ég vil ekki gráta fyrir framan fólkið.
– Viltu sjá hann? spyr mamma. Ég fæ hnút í magann.
– Er hægt að sjá hann?
– Já, það er eins og hann sé sofandi. Þú þarft ekki að sjá hann ef þú
vilt það ekki.
Ég hugsa mig vel um.
– Ég vil sjá hann, segi ég.
Mamma opnar dyrnar. Langafi liggur í rúminu eins og sofandi. Tennurnar
eru komnar aftur upp í hann.
–Nú er hann farinn til Guðs, segir mamma.
– Við skulum kaupa alvöru töfrasprota og láta hann hætta að vera
dáinn, segir systir mín.
Ég bjóst við að verða hræddur, hann var dáinn en hann var samt bara
langafi minn. Hann var ekkert draugalegur. Ég gekk að honum, strauk á
honum á hendurnar. Þær voru mjúkar en kaldar. Ég strauk honum um
kollinn, hann var kaldur á enninu en samt var hann langafi minn. Ég
beygði mig að honum:
– Besti langafi, hvíslaði ég.
– Er allt í lagi? spurði mamma.
Ég gat ekki alveg svarað. Ég gat ekki sagt já vegna þess að mér finnst
sorglegt að hann hafi dáið og ég get ekki sagt að mér líði illa vegna
þess að honum líður greinilega ekki illa.
– Ég get ekki svarað, sagði ég.
Seinna fer ég aftur inn til hans og sit hjá honum. Mér finnst eins og
hann gæti vaknað á hverri stundu og byrjað að telja fugla.

--- --- ---

Allt var gamalt í herberginu, myndirnar voru gamlar, gömlu teinóttu
jakkafötin héngu á snaga og veggfóðrið var silfrað með skrítnu
mynstri. Á veggnum voru myndir af börnum. Einu sinni var þetta hús
fullt af börnum. Núna eru börnin orðin afar og ömmur. Jólaserían var
ennþá í glugganum þótt jólin væru búin. Mér fannst eins og hlutirnir
hans væru líka dánir. Yfir rúminu hékk klippimynd af englum og skógi.
Ég á eftir að sakna hans langaafa.
–Sterna Paradísea. Þá er hann kominn norður.
2093. Það væri langur örlagaþráður.

 

 



Andri MagnasonAndri Magnason

Andri Snær Magnason is an Icelandic writer, born in Reykjavik on July 14, 1973. Andri has written novels, poetry, plays, short stories, essays and CDs. He is the codirector of the documentary film Dreamland. His work has been published or performed in more than twenty countries. His novel LoveStar was chosen as “Novel of the year” by Icelandic booksellers in 2002; it received the DV Literary Award and was nominated for the Icelandic Literary Prize. His children’s book, The Story of the Blue Planet, was the first children’s book to receive the Icelandic Literary Prize and has been published or performed in twenty-two countries. The Story of the Blue Planet received the Janusz Korczak Honorary Award 2000 and the West Nordic Children’s Book Prize 2002. The play from the story was performed on the main stage of LKTYP in Toronto in 2005. Andri has collaborated with various artists, mostly with a band called múm. Andri was vice-president of The Icelandic Writers Union, is a board member of The Culture House in Reykjavík and has been active in the fight against the destruction of the Icelandic Highlands. His book Dreamland:  A Self-Help Manual for a Frightened Nation takes on these issues. Dreamland has been published in English, Danish, German, and Japanese and has become a feature-length documentary film. Andri Magnason is the winner of the Kairos Award of 2010  granted by the Alfred Toepfer institute in Hamburg.

Translated from IcelandicIcelandic by Victoria CribbVictoria Cribb

Victoria Cribb is a freelance translator of Icelandic literature. Her translations of Icelandic authors published in English include crime novels by Arnaldur Indriðason, The Blue Fox and From the Mouth of the Whale by Sjón, and Stone Tree by Gyrðir Elíasson. She has an MA in Icelandic and Scandinavian Studies from UCL and a BPhil in Icelandic from the University of Iceland, and lived and worked in Reykjavík for a number of years as a publisher, journalist, and translator. She is currently completing a PhD in Old Icelandic at the University of Cambridge.