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First Read

Quake

By Auður Jónsdóttir
Translated from Icelandic by Meg Matich
Auður Jónsdóttir's novel Quake, a nominee for the Icelandic Literary Prize, is now available in English from Dottir Press. Translated by Meg Matich, the novel follows a young mother named Saga as she struggles with memory loss after a grand mal seizure. In the excerpt below, Saga comes to on the sidewalk without knowing how she got there.

“Do you remember what happened?”

A kind face looks down at me. A man in a winter coat helps me to my feet. My legs are limp like dough. I falter, grab him to stop myself from falling. Strong hands in stiff gloves steady me. He smells of something familiar, something sweet—what bees make. His presence is muffled, soft-edged.

“Can you tell me what happened?” he asks again, but words stick to my palate and gum together in a creaturely moan.

His eyes try to make sense of me. He huffs steam, as if he’s been running. We’re standing just outside of the park next to a two-lane highway. I recognize everything around me. The snow on the sidewalk has been trampled to a hard white carpet. I know this sidewalk—it leads past houses with big windows that glow in the low light of winter—but why am I here, across from this man, by myself?

In this weather, the fields are indiscernible from the path that runs through them. Cars rush past us like a plague of hissing locusts.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

“I . . . don’t know,” I say slowly. The muscles in my mouth won’t move properly.

“You landed on the pavement, and you’re badly bruised,” he says. He must be right because it hurts when I try to smile. “Can you remember anything that happened?” he asks once more, tightening his grip on my arm. Blue eyes, ruddy cheeks.

I can’t turn away from his concern. The world lurches, but I manage to mumble, “There was a red bus here—a bus on top of a bus.” I stop. I have to sound normal or I’ll never get away from him. Him who? Away where?

I need to sleep, to fall asleep. Find the word—find it now.

“T-two-s-story?” I stutter. “Like . . . buses other places.”

“Now you’re imagining things, my friend,” he says, as if he’s talking to a child. “Double-deckers are in a lot of places, but not Iceland. Except—well, were there tourists in it?”

“Já, Ívar saw—”

The sound is a shard, the screech of a seabird. We both brace ourselves. The scream seems to have come out of my body, and I can’t catch my breath. Another scream is coming. Another scream wants out.

“Where is he?”

“Who?” the man asks.

“My son—here. Pointed to bus and he—where?”

He looks confused. “Where did you see him last?”

Exasperated, I force myself to shout. “Here! Before I woke up. Did you see him?”

“He was here in the park?”

“Or—the entrance—” I scan the road, frantic. I resist the urge to faint as I spin to face the park. Small footprints wash together with a smattering of larger ones. I cup my head in my hands, squeeze my eyes shut to bring my surroundings into focus. I open them again. I wave the man off. “Run—there, the trees! Go! I’ll be there at the bus stop, there—the shelter. We’ll—”

“How old is he?”

Remember, remember.

“He’s only little,” I wail.

The man takes off toward Kjarvalsstaðir, the museum across the park, calling Ívar’s name, jacket flapping against the back of his knees. My feet have lost their bones. They wobble under my weight, but they don’t falter, though I feel myself edging toward a fall. I run, I trip.

“Ívar, where are you? Mamma is here.”

I taste blood in my mouth. My thighs and butt are cold and sopping wet. I’ve wet myself. The pain in my forehead is worsening; I can feel each blood vessel constricting. I am limp. My body has wasted its energy, but I hold myself—all of myself—together. Firm. No blood in my hair, only the thrum of a headache. I’ve gotten off lightly. But him?

The memory slips into my periphery. We were walking. I was holding his little hand. He laughed. See, Mamma, look at the cars!

Yes, I laughed—or not? I laughed, and the red bus drove past. I said, Ívar, look! The bus has two stories!

As the pieces gather, their edges misalign. Did Ívar chase after the bus?

*

Each second teeters on an axis. I run along the edge of the park, past traffic, but he’s nowhere to be found. I run back and back and back. I need to get to a phone.

I trip over my own feet, scramble out of the fall. Slip, scramble, slip to the far side of the park. That building. My heart is hurtling, but it won’t burst, not now. It hastens me over the snow, which elongates even as I cross it.

I throw myself against the doors, stumbling into the bright, warm space. My violence shocks the room. Eyes gape at me over cups of coffee, forkfuls of delicate shrimp.

I’m shrieking.


From 
Quake, copyright © 2015, 2022 by Auður Jónsdóttir. Translation copyright © 2022 by Meg Matich. Available February 2022 from Dottir Press (www.dottirpress.com), by arrangement with the publisher.

 

Related Reading:

On the Edge: Writing from Iceland

“Glaciers and Oceans and the Next Hundred Years”: A Conversation with Andri Snær Magnason

“Where the Infinite Unfolds” by Dulce Maria Cardoso, translated by Ángel Gurría-Quintana

English

“Do you remember what happened?”

A kind face looks down at me. A man in a winter coat helps me to my feet. My legs are limp like dough. I falter, grab him to stop myself from falling. Strong hands in stiff gloves steady me. He smells of something familiar, something sweet—what bees make. His presence is muffled, soft-edged.

“Can you tell me what happened?” he asks again, but words stick to my palate and gum together in a creaturely moan.

His eyes try to make sense of me. He huffs steam, as if he’s been running. We’re standing just outside of the park next to a two-lane highway. I recognize everything around me. The snow on the sidewalk has been trampled to a hard white carpet. I know this sidewalk—it leads past houses with big windows that glow in the low light of winter—but why am I here, across from this man, by myself?

In this weather, the fields are indiscernible from the path that runs through them. Cars rush past us like a plague of hissing locusts.

“Are you okay?” he asks.

“I . . . don’t know,” I say slowly. The muscles in my mouth won’t move properly.

“You landed on the pavement, and you’re badly bruised,” he says. He must be right because it hurts when I try to smile. “Can you remember anything that happened?” he asks once more, tightening his grip on my arm. Blue eyes, ruddy cheeks.

I can’t turn away from his concern. The world lurches, but I manage to mumble, “There was a red bus here—a bus on top of a bus.” I stop. I have to sound normal or I’ll never get away from him. Him who? Away where?

I need to sleep, to fall asleep. Find the word—find it now.

“T-two-s-story?” I stutter. “Like . . . buses other places.”

“Now you’re imagining things, my friend,” he says, as if he’s talking to a child. “Double-deckers are in a lot of places, but not Iceland. Except—well, were there tourists in it?”

“Já, Ívar saw—”

The sound is a shard, the screech of a seabird. We both brace ourselves. The scream seems to have come out of my body, and I can’t catch my breath. Another scream is coming. Another scream wants out.

“Where is he?”

“Who?” the man asks.

“My son—here. Pointed to bus and he—where?”

He looks confused. “Where did you see him last?”

Exasperated, I force myself to shout. “Here! Before I woke up. Did you see him?”

“He was here in the park?”

“Or—the entrance—” I scan the road, frantic. I resist the urge to faint as I spin to face the park. Small footprints wash together with a smattering of larger ones. I cup my head in my hands, squeeze my eyes shut to bring my surroundings into focus. I open them again. I wave the man off. “Run—there, the trees! Go! I’ll be there at the bus stop, there—the shelter. We’ll—”

“How old is he?”

Remember, remember.

“He’s only little,” I wail.

The man takes off toward Kjarvalsstaðir, the museum across the park, calling Ívar’s name, jacket flapping against the back of his knees. My feet have lost their bones. They wobble under my weight, but they don’t falter, though I feel myself edging toward a fall. I run, I trip.

“Ívar, where are you? Mamma is here.”

I taste blood in my mouth. My thighs and butt are cold and sopping wet. I’ve wet myself. The pain in my forehead is worsening; I can feel each blood vessel constricting. I am limp. My body has wasted its energy, but I hold myself—all of myself—together. Firm. No blood in my hair, only the thrum of a headache. I’ve gotten off lightly. But him?

The memory slips into my periphery. We were walking. I was holding his little hand. He laughed. See, Mamma, look at the cars!

Yes, I laughed—or not? I laughed, and the red bus drove past. I said, Ívar, look! The bus has two stories!

As the pieces gather, their edges misalign. Did Ívar chase after the bus?

*

Each second teeters on an axis. I run along the edge of the park, past traffic, but he’s nowhere to be found. I run back and back and back. I need to get to a phone.

I trip over my own feet, scramble out of the fall. Slip, scramble, slip to the far side of the park. That building. My heart is hurtling, but it won’t burst, not now. It hastens me over the snow, which elongates even as I cross it.

I throw myself against the doors, stumbling into the bright, warm space. My violence shocks the room. Eyes gape at me over cups of coffee, forkfuls of delicate shrimp.

I’m shrieking.


From 
Quake, copyright © 2015, 2022 by Auður Jónsdóttir. Translation copyright © 2022 by Meg Matich. Available February 2022 from Dottir Press (www.dottirpress.com), by arrangement with the publisher.

 

Related Reading:

On the Edge: Writing from Iceland

“Glaciers and Oceans and the Next Hundred Years”: A Conversation with Andri Snær Magnason

“Where the Infinite Unfolds” by Dulce Maria Cardoso, translated by Ángel Gurría-Quintana

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