It is the last day of the holiday
and I wake with a start. Above my head the roof slopes, next to me Torn
snores, outside the window the snow snows. The flakes are like an
overdose of confetti at a Mormon mass wedding. I am not sure if this is
a comfort or a sign.
class="c2"> I pull back the covers and gaze
down at Torn's naked body. I remember the first time we met. Torn was
playing the cadaver in my amateur dramatics group's rendition of the
second Kay Scarpetta mystery. 'Body of Evidence'.
class="c2"> After the rehearsal, still naked,
and strutting about the changing room like a tornado in a desert, Torn
asked me how long I had been acting. I told him I didn't act, for me,
this was as real as anything, and then he said, 'How did you lose your
leg?' His directness was a bolt out of the blue. Most people hover
around the absence of my leg like close relatives at the funeral of a
class="c2"> I nudge Torn awake and tell him we
have to pack. Torn laughs at this and leaps out of bed. He spins his
arms in front of him and hops quickly from foot to foot. He calls this
his 'available dance'.
class="c2"> "We have plenty of time yet," he
says and then he notices the time.
It is dark out and we are out.
The taxi appears on the cusp of the ice-field, a single horseman of the
Apocalypse galloping before dawn. We watch its approach like two
cut-outs in the snow, and as it draws nearer I remember two
class="c2"> "We didn't say goodbye to your
parents," I say. "And what about the penguin?"
class="c2"> "I wrote my parents a note," says
Torn. "The penguin is in my hand luggage."
class="c2"> Across the ice I hear a seal
barking and I narrow my eyes towards the sound. Something hits
class="c2"> "Your parents are blind. What use
is a note?"
class="c2"> Torn, as ever, has the answer for
everything. "Where there's a will there's a way." He puts a massive
hand on my shoulder. "If customs ask about the penguin, I'll tell them
it's a statuette. Will you back me up?"
class="c2"> I am still nodding my head as the
taxi pulls to a halt.
The taxi driver looks like a
walrus and has a walrus moustache. When he talks either his lips don't
move or the moustache hairs hide their movement.
class="c2"> "The radio is not working," he
says. "Or perhaps it is part of a bigger problem." He points
mysteriously up into the air.
class="c2"> I wonder what this bigger problem
could be and yet all I can think of is Ronald Reagan talking about star
wars. In my head I can see a grave newsreader and computer graphics of
laser beams hitting the peacock wings off viciously rotating
class="c2"> I am glad of this distraction. I
have been happy in the house on edge of the ice-field and all my dreams
of leaving have been bitter ones.
class="c2"> "We can come back again?" I say to
Torn hopefully, as the street lights on the perimeter of the airport
silently squeal through the windows of the car.
class="c2"> "We will come again," says Torn,
"but the way will always be forward, not back."
class="c2"> The taxi stops outside a tall
glass building that wouldn't look out of place in a low budget
class="c2"> "That's ninety-five krona," says
the taxi driver putting a fat arm on the back of the front seat. "We'll
call it a hundred, shall we?"
Inside the airport soldiers are
blocking the entrance to the departure lounge. Behind the line of desks
harassed looking staff speak swiftly into walkie-talkies while
potential flyers sit on cases with their heads in their hands. Above
our head the board tells a simple story. Every flight is
class="c2"> "Something's up," says
class="c2"> Everyone is too busy to talk and
the other travellers are as clueless as ourselves. Torn lets the
penguin out to stretch its legs and it sets off across the floor like
the Japanese shinkansen.
class="c2"> We eventually catch it up at a
small door with 'Staff Toilet' emblazoned across it in spectacular
letters. Coming out of the door is a man dressed as a pilot. I scoop
the penguin into my arms and risk a question.
class="c2"> "Do you know what's going
class="c2"> Torn looms twice the size of the
pilot. I see fear in the pilot's eyes although no fear has been
threatened. The pilot casts a glance to the nearest soldier. I guess he
is judging relative shooting distances, parabolas of flying bullets,
the intensity of Icelandic army training.
class="c2"> "Just tell us," I say.
class="c2"> A bead of sweat falls from above
his right eyebrow. His jaw quivers like an arrow. He takes a deep
class="c2"> "It's Europe," he says. "It's
class="c2"> I squeeze my eyes together and
open them again. My analyst told me to do this in moments of extreme
class="c2"> The pilot holds his arms up so
they make two sides of an equilateral triangle.
class="c2"> "Earthquake," he says and then he
jitters across the floor like a robot who is on the edge of
The same taxi is waiting outside
and we get in. The driver flicks on the metre and runs two fingers
through his moustache.
class="c2"> "How was your trip?"
class="c2"> "A short one," says Torn. "Take us
class="c2"> I am surprised at this change of
direction. "Aren't we going back to your parents' house?"
class="c2"> Torn pushes out his lips. "They
are disabled, we can't stay with them forever. Perhaps it is time for
us to start a new life; out of anything bad, good can come. My brother
he lives in Keflavik. There was a feud. It is time to make
class="c2"> This is the longest speech that
Torn has ever made. It is almost as surprising as the existence of a
brother. Behind us the airport gets smaller and smaller, not literally,
but as a matter of perception.
class="c2"> I put my hand on my false leg.
There are some tragedies in life and there are others. It is our
capacity as human beings that we deal with what we say we can never
class="c2"> The atmosphere in the cab grows
hot. I think, 'you could grow things in here' and I remember as a child
putting cress seeds in the airing-cupboard. A few days later I went to
fetch a towel and opening the door I was confronted by a tiny
class="c2"> "It's a miracle," I said and I
blew on the leaves, watching them bow and sway and then later I ate
them in a sandwich.
class="c2"> I must have fallen asleep because
the next thing I know Torn is shaking me awake and the taxi driver is
leaning over the front seat.
class="c2"> "That's ninety-four krona," he
says. "Let's call it a hundred, shall we?"
There is a large rusting
warehouse in front of us. Past the warehouse is the sea and on the sea
bobs a two-engine plane. On the side of the plane in spread-eagled
lettering are the words, 'Travis's Triple-Engine
class="c2"> I follow Torn to a rusting door in
the side of the warehouse and we push our way in.
class="c2"> The warehouse contains everything
that you would expect to find in a house but does so with an absence of
rooms. An area with a sofa and tv indicates a living-room, a bed and a
wardrobe indicates a bedroom. And so on.
class="c2"> Sitting at a desk is a man. He has
a long pipe hanging from his lips which billows smoke into the air.
Behind him is a large poster. It has a whale on it.
class="c2"> As the man sees us he removes the
pipe from his lips.
class="c2"> "Torn," he says, "I thought the
world would end before I would see you again."
class="c2"> After some careful consideration
Torn says, "You should be careful what you wish for Travis."
class="c2"> The man throws his head back and
laughs at this. "Well, now you are here, you are here. You look like
you could use a bath."
class="c2"> I feel somewhat self-conscious
taking a bath in the centre of the floor but Travis is exactly right, a
bath is what I need. I remove my outer clothes, my underpants and my
leg and slip gladly into the steaming waters.
class="c2"> Over by the table Torn and Travis
are deep in conversation. They have map between them and they have
managed to tune a radio into a Rhodesian channel. It appears that
Travis understands the language having worked there for a number of
years as a big game hunter.
class="c2"> "Europe is almost completely
gone," he says. "Certain parts of the Pyrenees remain, as does Andorra,
but the rest?" He holds up his hands. "The African countries are
convening to talk about aid. The meeting will be a difficult one, after
all, Europe and Africa have a certain history." Travis turns to me.
"Don't empty out the water. Torn can go in after you. Then me. I live
on something of a knife edge here."
class="c2"> Later in bed I listen to the wind
against the side of the warehouse. Behind this I can hear the sea plane
rocking in its moorings. I cannot sleep and sensing the same insomnia
in Torn I risk a question.
class="c2"> "What happened between you and
Travis? He seems ok."
class="c2"> Torn turns and turns again. Bed
class="c2"> "Guilt happened," he says and he
tells me a story in whispers, his lips almost touching my
class="c2"> "I was thirteen and Travis was
fourteen, my parents both had eyes. It was a time of exploration. Oil
had been found in Iceland and it was believed there was more. Our
nation would be transformed, we would be wealthy.
class="c2"> "Travis was in love with a girl.
Every night in our bed at the top of the house he would say her name
over and over while touching himself. Only this girl would never love
him. Her parents were wealthy iron mongers and we were no match for
class="c2"> "As love can do, it drove Travis
crazy. He came up with a plan. He started a rumour that we had oil on
our land. He sold his body to the sailors at Grindavik and bought a
sharp suit in the colour of blue. He stood outside this girl's bedroom
and threw up the names of precious stones like incantations. He
mesmerised not only himself but others too.
class="c2"> "One night bandits broke into our
house. They strapped up my parents like turkeys and demanded to know
where this oil was. My parents didn't know. They couldn't say. As greed
can do, it drove the bandits crazy. One by one they popped out the eyes
of my parents until they didn't have a single one between them. That
was the start of the darkness."
class="c2"> I look over to where Travis is
sleeping. By the side of his bed rests the pipe that never seems to
leave his side. In the starlight from the window I notice for the first
time the pipe is in the shape of a lady. I wonder if this is a comfort
or not. I fall asleep.
I wake up and the bed is empty
except for me. I eventually find Torn and Travis standing at the place
where the ocean meets the land. They are both staring at the sea
class="c2"> "It is decided," says Torn. "We
will all work together."
class="c2"> The ocean stretches as far as the
eye can see. In some ways it is like the ice-field except the ocean is
class="c2"> "We will offer tours," says
Travis. "I will fly the plane and you and Torn will give the
class="c2"> "On what?" I say.
class="c2"> "On the whales," says
class="c2"> "Do you think they will
class="c2"> Torn casts his hands out to sea.
"The ocean is full of whales. Iceland is famous for them."
class="c2"> I don't have the heart to tell him
that I meant the tourists and not the whales. But I am captivated by
Torn's optimism. It seems like a new beginning.
class="c2"> In fact there are a multiplicity
of new beginnings; my life in Iceland, Torn and Travis becoming
brothers again, setting up a business, waiting for our first customer,
living in the warehouse together, taking care of the penguin in a new
environment, the reconstruction of Europe.
class="c2"> "I have one condition," I say.
"The warehouse it needs walls, interior ones."
class="c2"> Torn gives a whoop of delight. He
makes his hands into fists and spins them in front of him while hopping
from foot to foot. This is his available dance again.
class="c2"> Actually, as a dance, it is fairly