The mince was cooked through, but the onions were still half raw. It didn’t matter much. Sveinn opened the glass cabinet and, after a moment’s hesitation, decided not to bother with the wine glasses and to use small tumblers for the wine instead. Otherwise she might think he had unrealistic romantic ideas about the meal. He picked up a half-full bottle of red wine and said, ‘I hope you don’t think this is inappropriate, but I like a glass of wine with my meal.’
She shook her head and her eyes lit up a little. It was obviously all right for him to unwind: she was clearly not the type to read something into every single action. She didn’t even seem to properly take in what was going on around her.
What was she thinking anyway? He was well aware that fatigue made him appear drunk. Didn’t she hesitate before following a drinker into his house?
She poured out two glasses of wine, and helped herself from the pan. That was the last thing he noticed for a while. He almost forgot she was there, because it took all his exhausted attention to slice his potatoes in half and smear a dollop of butter over the smooth surfaces. Salt. Oh, God! Tears came to his eyes at the very thought of the taste of buttered potatoes with salt.
When he next looked up she had finished her glass and was refilling it. Well, now! he thought and must have relaxed slightly, because he was genuinely delighted that a strange woman was sitting down to eat with him, even if they were both rather uncommunicative.
‘I knew I wouldn’t be able to undo the bolts,’ she said, and glanced quickly at him before turning her attention to the fork in his hand. ‘That’s why I was hoping the garage would still be here and the guys wouldn’t have all gone home.’
She shook her head and added, ‘When Dad changed a light bulb he often broke the bulb and the fixing, and sometimes he pulled knobs off doors. I think he did it deliberately so that we would tell these stories about him.’ She laughed, and he couldn’t help laughing with her. Mainly because the wine had made her ears red.
‘Is he still alive?’ he asked.
‘We buried him last week,’ she replied. ‘It was a heart attack. He had stopped driving but carried on lifting weights even though the doctor and I had both begged him to ease off.’
That suicide case had managed to force its way into Sveinn’s life. Sveinn had refused to be interviewed by the journalist, but nevertheless she had printed a photo of him next to her article which somehow implied that he was indirectly responsible for the tragedy.
What about the guys who’d sold him his television? Weren’t they equally to blame? If the old man had been soft in the head and muddled fantasy with reality that wasn’t Sveinn’s fault, and it certainly wasn’t the fault of the doll who, the tabloid said, had accompanied him in his death. Although, yes, the man had torn off her head, sliced off her breasts and ripped her skin to shreds before he shot himself with an old farm rifle.
Sveinn had done his best to make the journalist see how lacking in taste it would be to cover this story at all. That the self-destruction of an old man was not newsworthy, no matter how many sex aids he had in his cupboard, or if he had chosen to destroy some of his possessions before he looked down the barrel. But she’d refused to listen, keen to prove herself in her new job and as fascinated by his girls as everyone else was. And just as most people felt obliged to veil their interest with moralizing, she justified her inquisitiveness by making out that this was something she, as a journalist, had a duty to expose.
He observed the woman sitting opposite him at the table more carefully. She resembled typical drawings of the first women settlers: large, round eyes and big, shapely bosoms that rested firmly on a sturdy, solid torso, and legs like two magnificent pillars. Without getting up, he reached across for another bottle and opened it discreetly. He wanted to see her drunk. If she chose to drive home in that condition it wouldn’t really be his fault.
On the other hand, it wasn’t right. He had some responsibility towards her while she was not quite herself. Unbalanced in a beautiful, peaceful way, not at all hysterical, there she was sitting in his home, and he was wanting to top her up with wine, even though she was driving and had almost been shedding tears onto the roof of her car a little earlier. He wanted to know more about her loss and the pain it had clearly left her with. He wanted her to say something crass, to make a fool of herself, to be degraded by sentimentality. There was something inside him which he couldn’t understand, and this was the only way he could give vent to it.
This is an excerpt from Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir’s novel ‘Skaparinn’ , translated from Icelandic by Sarah Bowen as ‘The Creator’ (Portobello Books, 2012). Reprinted with permission from the author and translator.
Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir studied philosophy at the University of Iceland, and has published both fiction and poetry. In 2012, she was awarded the Icelandic Literary Prize for ‘Allt með kossi vekur’ (‘Everything is Woken With a Kiss’). She lives in Reykjavik with her husband, film maker Marteinn Thorsson.
About the translator: Sarah Bowen graduated from University College London with first class honours in Icelandic Studies. Her translations include ‘My Kingdom and its Horses’, a short story by Auður Jónsdóttir; ‘The Creator’, a novel by Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir and ‘The Perfect Landscape’, a novel by Ragna Sigurðardóttir (recently longlisted for the 2014 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award). She and her husband are based in Surrey, England. They have three grown-up daughters.