We drive the days away watching sharp, bare, blinding-white architecture and walls of endless glass surrender to weathered wood, moss roofs, and gingerbread. Three days into the trip and I feel raw and beautiful. The air smells rich and emerald, like the earth after rain, like you could form it into a ball and a tree would grow out of it. I inhale wild herbs and grasses and I exhale bits of myself. Around each bend in the bendy road, waterfalls pound and hiss their way toward the ocean. We stand beside them to take pictures and are deafened. The earth gurgles and bubbles up hot milky blue pools of water like it is being birthed right here under our feet. We soak ourselves in them, emerging with steaming skin, reborn. The road spreads before us as we listen to the music on the radio: voices of fairies eerily whispering through fog. “Bless, bless”, means “goodbye” in Icelandic, which sounds so very sweet and lullaby-like, but I’m starting to hear it now as an act of exorcism, a phrase of pity and fear for our foreign brains. These people are angels with Viking blood. They can see what is happening to us.
The clock tells us its midnight; the clock is a liar. We play round after round of cards until the kings and queens are blurry, the numbers act silly, and each turn we forget whose turn it is next. Inevitably, regrettably, we decide to call it a night. Aunt Carol ritually pulls down the black drapes, shuts the heavy curtains, and puts on her pajamas. My Aunt Carol, my sweet, tall, slender, nearly-80 year old Aunt Carol stands in her new neon-lime-green over-sized nightshirt that just graces her knees. Our luggage didn’t make the trip, and the essentials we could afford were few. I notice the shirt gets a little bit bigger on her each night. We pull up the leaden blankets all the way up over our tired faces and wait for gentle sleep to whisper us away. We wait with hope. We wait with desperation, listening to the awakeness of the world around us. There is a pulse, an incessant, inaudible buzzing like a very far away alarm clock calling, calling, calling.
I can't take it.
I go outside.
The sky is sherbet with a tease of a sunset that keeps repeating like it forgot how to stop. The crisp, apple-y air of this island’s deep summer punches my temples through the weaves of my hat as I walk. 1 fjord, 2 fjords, 3, return. My mind is depleted, my bones are aching with weary, but my brain will not submit. I need to exhaust myself, so I run. I run and run and run. I am giddy like a teenage slumber party. I am a thunderstorm! The gravel crunches under my feet and echoes back as I race toward the ocean like I am on fire. The water is at my toes, three or a thousand ships sit rocking, metronomic. I stare at them, panting, counting lambs. It doesn’t help. I run back toward the blue church and its white picket fence, toward sanity and structure, but I can feel eyes watching each move I make. They are giggling at me. They are tricking me. I look for them over my shoulder, quickly, jerkily, but they hide behind rocks, grunting. Out of breath, out of life, but still awake like this over-souled, unpopulated town in the light of night. The mountains are shoulders, the roads are arms. I spiral the town tornado-like in the palm of a giant, desperate to get lost in darkness. There is none. This country has me in its maniacal solstice grip. There is no stillness and solitude, like sunset in other places on earth. Everything is alive, heartbeatingly alive. I am a poem of Odin. I am a monster! I am exhausted. I cannot sleep. I am dreaming? Pale lavender and violet brushstrokes continue to feather out from all the rooftops until finally, quietly, marigold strums in, boldly taking over again. The grunts from behind rocks stop and the treetops begin to chirp. The gravel silences its echo. The shoulders return to mountains; the arms to roads and I drag my body along them back to the inn. My eyes are potatoes. A fourth night sleep has been stolen from us.
Breakfast is silky, rich yogurt with luscious, ripe berries. We savor each morsel, each bursting bite of bliss. I ask how she likes her new underpants because, I just realize, these are the most comfortable pair I have ever worn. My Aunt Carol, my beautiful, sweet Aunt Carol, has a laugh like leprosy; dangerously contagious and I fear at any second a body part will fall right off onto the floor. Her head flies backwards like she’s been hit with a truck of funny and she is recoiling from the impact. She hits a pitchy squeal followed by complete silence while her body trembles. Another howl and another soundless quake. She frantically reaches toward her eyes to lift her glasses and wipe away the tears, which are pouring down her face like the deafening waterfalls along the road. Now I’m doing the same thing, uncontrollably. The coffee cup sloshes with our shaking, spilling itself in gulps onto the table. Our underwear is hilarious.
I take another bite of yogurt and we pack our grocery-bag-suitcases. “Bless, bless”, they call to us as we pour ourselves into the car. Ahead there is a waterfall to see. All over again, I feel raw and beautiful.