Friday, 2 October 2009

Hallgrímur Helgason: The Author of Iceland - 5


Yes. It was true, people disappeared in broad daylight. It was true, Axel disappeared one day. And has never been seen again. The day after his arrest, I found the door to room 247 locked. It had been sealed. I hurried out along the corridor and down the staircase and before I was down in the lobby I had completely forgotten I had ever met Mr. Lorens. But I will never forget that door, the long corridor in Hotel Lux and those yellow walls, that red carpet and that gleaming wooden door with the sealed handle, that handle… The door handle moves. I’ll be damned. I catch a glimpse of the old woman through the doorway. She is standing outside, holding the door slightly open, I am looking at one of her eyes, there is a slight glint in it from the light night in the attic, it gleams there along with her mole-nose… I’ll be damned, she's hardly much taller than the door handle. What on earth does she want now? I look at her. She looks at me as though she thinks I can’t see her. This is rather a stupid moment. Then finally she says, without opening the door any further:

‘Are you sleeping?’


‘Can you not sleep?’


Now she opens the door all the way, and steps into the room.

‘Would you like me to help you? Will I help you to get to sleep?’

‘No, no… I… I can easily get to sleep…’

A whopping lie. I would gladly sleep with this old woman if it give me even an hour’s sleep. An hour’s break from this endless military parade in my head. She comes into the room, her head jutting straight from her shoulders, her hair white over her forehead. Her eyes on me.

‘You look good lying there… You look good in bed.’


‘There are few better sights than a man in bed,’ she says, toying with the foot-board, eyeing my feet for a while: ‘What size… What size of shoes do you take?’

‘Me? Size 42.’

‘Size forty-two?’


‘Forty-two… yes, yes, that should be fine. That should be fine.’ She wandered over to the window, looked out. Out across Fjörður and the fjord.

‘It’s bright outside.’


‘Terribly bright, this night,’ she mumbled to some dead flies that lay on the windowsill, swept some of them away with a grey and glass-hard little finger. Then turned round without looking at me and said:

‘Nineteen hundred and twenty-three. It was nineteen hundred and twenty-three. Bjarni his name was. Bjarni from Borgarfjörður.’

The old woman vanished through the doorway, but soon returned:

‘From Borgarfjörður. What did you say they were? Forty-two?’


‘Yes. Listen, then, I'll go and see if they’ll do. Go and see if they’ll do.’

Then she left the room and stumbled down the staircase. I waited there until everything was quiet. Then went outside. It was a bright, cloudless night in late July. I walked up the hill and sat down there. The far end of the fjord was blocked off by a high, peaked mountain to the south, so that one could not see out to sea. Kólfur, its name was, if I am not mistaken. The silence was complete, not a peep from mouse or bird. The fjord was like a deep cup filled to the brim with stillness. I sat for a while, looking out over the village and its environs. I noticed that the people who had sat on the hillside in recent days were still sitting there. Even though they were far away, I had a sense that they were all watching me.

translated from Icelandic by David McDuff

The Author of Iceland - 1
The Author of Iceland - 2
The Author of Iceland - 3
The Author of Iceland - 4

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