Vættir – English excerpt

I’m sitting on a bench at the stamp-sized garden on the corner of Amtmannsstígur and Þingholtsstræti, sipping on a cooling cup of coffee. The headache has gotten worse and I doubt that the coffee is going to help. It strikes me like my head is a bell in a church tower, the echo of the pain resonating and vibrating through me as the shockwave of pain slowly fades away. Then I’m struck by another hit. The needle sits in my eye as usual, that twisting pain. I clench my eyes shut and imagine I have an arrow through my head.

It’s been too long since I met someone. I always do this. Shut myself off because I don’t feel good and don’t realise it’s making my emotional state worsen. Then I react to that by shutting myself even further off. It’s too difficult to meet people already and the longer I wait, the harder it gets. Too often I feel like I don’t know what to say. Almost as if I don’t see the purpose of saying anything at all. Still, I’d like to say something. I can barely think for the headache, this fucking headache that does nothing except deny me the luxury of forgetting myself, even for a moment. I can never get into a movie or a book or other people’s company. Alcohol doesn’t numb the pain, so parties are even harder than they used to. I now drink harder and faster in the hope of numbing the pain, and sometimes it does for a short while. But never long enough that I can relax. I can never relax.

I open my eyes and see that there’s a women sitting on the other bench. She was staring at me but looked away as soon as I opened my eyes and noticed her. The needle in my eye turns into a rotating screw, slowly but surely burrowing its way through my brain. The pain lying over the head itself has become constant and sharp, like a current of electricity surging through me. I look down and push hard against my left eye and temple. It doesn’t help, but the physical sensation, the pain that follows it is a better and more physical pain that the one I currently have. When I look back up the woman is gone. The headache has somewhat calmed down. She must have been around my age. Did she think I was insane? There was something about her. How she looked at me.

A man walks past me, his hands gesturing excitedly, as he looks behind himself up the street. Behind him a group of tourists follows, dressed in brightly coloured windbreakers with cameras around their necks and a certain optimistic smile that can not be found on the face of any person living in Reykjavík. The carefree look of wonder worn by someone on holiday, travelling. To my horror the group stops at the small square and looks expectantly at the man who led them here.

“In Reykjavík you can see many vættir all around you,” the guide begins in English. “Sometimes where you can least expect them. They like nature, trees and rocks, but also places that are emotional or important in some way. For example, this small green square is filled with elves-“

I can’t listen to more of this meaningless bullshit. There are no fucking elves, let alone on this spot. There is nothing here but a herd of tourists and two Icelandic idiots: one who lies to others, another who lies to himself. He keeps on describing the elves in detail, even pretends to talk to one of them. He describes a variety of beautiful vættir all around, but not the spider with the human face that hangs from the rooftop. He doesn’t describe the vættur moving under cars across the street, crawling on countless, crooked fingers, its tongue flickering and moistening its lips. He doesn’t describe the weeping gargoyle that vomits a pile of leaves into a drain, or a gelatinous blob of fish guts and bone that is sitting in the gutter, staring at us with an unblinking swarm of piscine eyes. The square itself is empty, except for us. He describes everything except what is here. Once in a while his eyes dart towards me, as if he’s afraid that I will unveil these blatant lies. Or perhaps he hopes that I will, maybe he is pleading to me to free him from this lying hell. Tell them what it’s really like. How there is not a place to be found without them. But I just sit there and keep quiet and try to rub the pain out of my eye.

The guide has finished his speech and waves the group to move onward. He says he’s going to take them to a place where you can pay an artist to draw the vættir into their photographs, so they can see them. The tourists start to follow and I feel relieved. One couple drags behind the rest, busy taking pictures, and an uncomfortable feeling settles over me. The grounds for that sensation is confirmed when the couple walks up to me, smiling and filled with expectation, and ask if I’m Icelandic.

“Yes,” I weakly reply in English.

“So you see them?” they ask. “You’ve lived here long enough?”

“All my life,” I say.

“How lucky! Are there any near us now? Can you tell us?” They are standing in front of me, side by side, looking around themselves like children playing a game of treasure hunt. I look at the mothman eggsacks hanging off the lamp post behind them, almost ready to hatch. At a hunched creature covered in wild heath and berries, dragging its claws on the ground with every step, open-mouthed with vacant eyes. At leaping, monstrous crows landing one by one on the roof of a nearby car before leaping over to the next one, crowing profanities with each jump. At an enormous snail sitting on the side of one of the houses, staring at us, his human hands sticking out of the shell and clasped over it, like a man would place them over his stomach.

“Just the elves,” I say and try to smile.