Thursday, 8 October 2009

The Lumpfish

by Ólafur Gunnarsson

I thought I recognized him when we first ran into one another in Hotel Borg. I didn’t know from where. He was sitting at a table with a glass yawning. That’s Nonni, said my girlfriend Sigga, and introduced us. I didn’t think he was much to get excited about but Bob hadn’t showed up. Nonni asked me to dance. We smooched our way through a tango and I watched the trumpet player over his shoulder. The trumpet player was really nice looking. Nonni invited me up to the bar for a drink and I let him drool all over me the entire evening. Then we went home together and I let him do it to me. They didn’t always get it straightaway in the old days. Even though they were Americans. I often used to send them home crippled. Ha ha ha. Really crippled.

Well, so he called me on the phone and asked me out to a movie and I went along because Bob had given me up and Nonni had such a fast car. Also he kept his shoes shined and he had some manners. We saw a movie with Tyrone Power in. I bet he was a good fuck. I could really have killed myself for not being in town when he came to Iceland. My girlfriend Sigga still has a five krona bill he wrote his name on.

Nonni and I had been going steady for a month when I discovered I was pregnant. I could have murdered myself. But Nonni wanted to marry me and what was I supposed to do? He had just started an import business. All kinds of stuff from Spain. A lot of it was really nice. Mom and Dad were pleased I was going to get married. Dad was always poking his nose in and he used to get real mad if I came home with a fellah. There was just one time when I had to scream out loud and then Dad said to me next morning: you little whore, I heard you last night. Ugh I paid no attention. I mean is it anyone’s business but her own what a girl does with her cunt ? I’ve always been liberal myself, though I all the old traditions.

Then my Halli was born. Nonni said he didn’t look like him. The garbage they keep in their heads. He started to get drunk and by the time he came home he was real crazy. The boring crap they keep in their heads. First Dad and then Nonni with this quarrel. Well, it’s nice to have some peace at last. That’s all I can say.

Then he started moaning dead drunk about how he wanted to give up business. Said he wanted to live in the country. Stupid dumb fool. He wouldn’t have been able to stand it one single day. I really can’t stand people who sit round moaning they want to be something different from what they are. Even in their old age. The country. Him that always had to lie for a week in bed after a drunk and couldn’t eat anything but hash stew. Opened his sweet little mouth while I spooned the warm meat into him. Ugh. And while I’d be spooning it into him he’d always remind me of something but I was never sure what it was. Dad’s hands.

We got rich quick. You have too look out for yourself. I can’t stand these people who’re always trying to be different from everybody else. Decent people shouldn’t pay any attention to that crowd. They’re against everything and no one’s supposed to own anything so they get it all from others and don’t want to work. They’re perfectly able to look after themselves, if you ask me. Why don’t they all just go to Russia. Ha ha ha. Russia.

Well, when we moved into out house I wasn’t too pleased with the kitchen and then I saw such a smart one at my sister Svana´s place that I just had to change it. Nonni complained at first and I thought he’d never give in. And then one time when he came home from a meeting in the middle of the night he hit me in the face. I had to run out into the street half naked. But I was just joking. I let the blood drip all over everything. I knew he’d be miserable as hell the next day and I’d be able to get whatever I wanted.

Anyway he calmed down a lot over the years and completely stopped having those fits except occasionally. His system just couldn’t take the booze any more. But that moaning! That nobody understood him and that other people ought to show him some respect. That Halli didn’t look like him. You never knew what was coming next. These men have to be taken a firm hold of right away. My poor friend Sigga. She married a real bastard, who tormented her and then walked out on her. Left her with five children and married a twenty-year old girl. But then something else happened. The girl tormented him and he was always as timid as a mouse. Men like that really make me sick. Then Sigga got married again but this guy was only a store assistant and it didn’t work out. He’s in a mental hospital now and talks about nothing but bills and promissory noted the girls were telling me the other day. Poor Sigga. I really must go and see her soon.

Nonni was a bit like that too. He was really hard on his staff and of course I won’t deny that a boss has to be boss but he never tried anything on when I was around. Otherwise the business went well and Nonni employed fifteen people. He also joined the freemasons. I sometimes used to go along to the banquets with him, and I always went with him to Hotel Saga when the old boys from the Business School held their anniversary dinner in the spring. The year my Halli graduated Nonni was speaking to the class of twenty-five. Then my Halli walked into the hall. I was so proud. Nonni also gave a speech to the class of thirty-five last spring. All those old guys with their womenfolk, shoveling the food into themselves. I’ve always kept an eye on the inches, but Nonni had gotten fatter than ever and he couldn’t do it to me any more. Once when he took a trip to Germany to buy firecrackers I went to Hotel Saga with my sister Svana and got myself this sweet little boy. He was really fantastic. I thought he’d never have enough. I was lucky that Nonni was at a meeting. Except that by that time he’d lost all interest in anything but eating. But I was doing something creative. I embroidered and sewed bell-ropes. I must have dine six rococo chairs and all my friends say they’ve never seen anything so nice. The stupid whores. They ruined my parquet floor when they came home after the funeral. Oh yes, while I still remember. Those Business School dinners at Hotel Saga. They remind me of something, those old guys. All those folds upon folds of double chins ? Dad’s hands. In spring when I was little. Where was it I used to go with Dad ? I was never sure.

Well, Nonni´s heart started to crack up and I was lucky if I got it twice a year. The same position time. The woman on her back, the man on his front. Or what was it that book said. I can’t remember now. But it was different in the old days.

Four British soldiers had me at the same time. But that’s a secret. I was so drunk. The doctor told Nonni to lose weight but do you thing he could that. Oh no. He just ate and ate and in the last weeks he’d even stopped going to the office My Halli had just started to work in the family business. He’s a nice boy who’s getting to be more and more like his Dad. He got married the other day. They looked so wonderful at their wedding those two. He mentioned his shares but she didn’t want him to cash them and neither did my Halli when it came to the point, and anyway he’s a lot happier now that he’s started working for himself.

So anyway one evening Nonni said he felt so bad that I just had to call the doctor. Helgi, the doctor arrived too late and said next to nothing. It’s really terrible to see Helgi these days. He was a lot livelier in the old days. Maybe there’s a bit of life left in him yet ? Well, Helgi had just gone when Nonni said his chest hurt him real bad and then he just fell back in bed wheezing and blowing. What could I do? I tried to talk to him but he was so blue in the face and he was belching and wheezing. It just so happened that I’d had a fresh plaice for supper and the entrails and the blood reminded me of something while I was cutting the fish. The bright-colored entrails and Dad’s hands. I leaned over him to get a better look. He’d stopped wheezing and blowing and I’d been staring there for ages looking at him when all of a sudden he opened his mouth wide. And then I remembered what it was Nonni had reminded me of all those years. I tried not to thing it but it was absolutely true. He was like one of the lumpfish in Dad’s sink in the old days. Like a lumpfish. A gaping lumpfish.

translated from Icelandic by David McDuff

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