Erika watched the television flicker with static noise, the colourful shapes of a perfume advert occasionally bursting through. A crow was crying on the roof of their house with its talons gripping and shaking the TV aerial.
Along the hallway, Sjon lumbered out of the bath like a bee from a tulip. He had slept through Erika’s alarm clock, only raising his head for a moment to wish her well before she left for the clinic.
The doctor had told her that her eggs couldn’t tremble at low temperatures, so there are no bumps that could damage it or cause alarm. He had smiled and winked when he spoke. The muscles around Erika’s mouth tensed. She had read all the material and knew the benefits.
Sjon entered the living room with a towel wrapped around his waist and placed his hand on her head. She only seemed interested in the spurting fuzz of the TV. The cawing of the crow could be heard in the living room.
‘How can you put up with the television like that?’ Sjon asked, making his way to the back of the TV to wiggle the cable.
‘I didn’t notice.’
Unable to fix the image, Sjon turned it off.
‘How did it go then?’
‘I see you’re going to be good company today.’
She rubbed her stomach and tried to look beyond him, through the window to the street. There was nothing for her to see and she was desperate for distraction.
‘Sorry,’ she said, ‘why don’t we go to the spa and relax?’
‘Good idea. I’ll get dressed.’
Outside, the light was white, as though the street was covered in snow, but it was August and winter in Reykjavik was still a few months away. The brightness forced them to walk with their heads bowed.
‘Look how much garbage we walk on,’ said Erika.
‘I don’t know why we need to pick up after dogs when birds are shitting anywhere they want.’
‘I was talking about the chewing gum.’
‘You know,’ he said, ‘I’d take that over a lump of avian faecal matter.’
‘It’ll be covered with leaves soon enough. It looks like some have already started to fall.’
'And then the birds will all fly south, to cover Spain in crap.’
She thought about telling Sjon that everything seemed red behind her eyelids
Erika faced into the sun to feel the heat. She thought about telling Sjon that everything seemed red behind her eyelids. A few years ago he would have said something funny or charming about it, but probably not now.
They soon arrived at the Laugar spa. Sjon lay across the top shelf of the sauna and Erika faced him from the ledge below.
‘You definitely asked the doctor if you could have a sauna?’
‘Yes, it’s fine,’ she said. ‘I really need it, too. I’m so cold.’
‘You’ll warm up in no time,’ said Sjon, indicating the thermometer on the wall beside his head. An hourglass hung beside it, its sand seemingly stuck inside the waist. He tapped it with his finger to release the flow.
‘We almost got stuck in here forever,’ he said.
Erika wiped the sweat from her body and Sjon reached down and clasped his hand around her ankle.
‘You know, at least you won’t need to have any more injections.’
Erika pressed her finger against the softest part of her thigh, where the needle had punctured her skin.
‘If I had known about the size of that needle, I never would have done it.’
A few years ago he would have said something funny or charming about it, but probably not now
A young woman entered the sauna. She wore a ripe red bikini and Sjon watched her climb on to the top shelf across from him.
‘I think I’ve had enough,’ said Erika.
She left the sauna and plunged into the cold pool outside. Shock trembled through her body but she stayed submerged, wanting to scream the air from her lungs. The doctor had told her that the water inside her eggs would be replaced with anti-freeze. He said that the shell would get harder and that they’d need to use a needle when they wanted to fertilise it.
When Erika got out of the pool, her skin tingled. Sjon brought over glasses of lemon water and joined her on the bench.
‘You’re absolutely right,’ she said, ‘it’s good that I won’t need any more injections, this should be a happy day.’
‘It should be a wonderful day. We can do anything now and you don’t need to worry about a thing.’
‘It’s been such a miserable few months – it must have been the injections.’
‘I noticed that,’ Sjon nodded. ‘You know, I also noticed that we haven’t had any fun lately. Maybe we should open a bottle of wine tonight and eat in?’
“I’d really like that. Just like we used to do.’
Later in the evening, when they had finished eating and the hum of wine was in their blood, Sjon lifted her up, carried her from the kitchen and dropped her on to their bed.
‘You know, I think it’s time for your massage,’ he said. ‘Take your clothes off and lie on your front.’
She did as he ordered and Sjon began massaging her shoulders. She turned her head to the side. An empty pot sat on the bedside table. She had made it with a cobalt blue pattern and she had wanted to plant an orchid in it.
Sjon moved to her lower back, his thumbs tracing small circles around her waist. She felt him remove his weight from her back. Then there was a shuffle of fabric and the clink of that cheap metal belt she hated. She turned her head and lay with her face pressed into the pillow. Next was the sound of the bedside drawer. She knew what was happening. He tore the packet and the wrapper fell to the floor.
His weight returned. Heavier than before. She thought of the plastic tube the doctor had inserted earlier that day, and the stainless steel needle that had taken her eggs.
Sjon’s hands grappled with her thighs. At least she wouldn’t need any more injections. That was true. But why did he feel the need to use a condom? What was he worried about? He grunted and pressed one of his hands firmly on her lower back. It was uncomfortable and everything felt sterile. She responded to a couple of Sjon’s prompts.
Sjon pulled at her hair as though trying to disturb her line of thought. He let out a small groan and suddenly it was over.
'Did you enjoy your massage, baby?’
‘It was great.’
she finally fell asleep, trying to remember some of the things they had said that day, and feeling sad that she couldn't
He rolled to his side and fell asleep quickly after. Erika moved to the edge of the bed and tried to join him in sleep, but it wouldn’t come. She opened her eyes and saw the cobalt pot again. She remembered the smile on Sjon’s face when she unwrapped the kiln he got her on their second anniversary. He had been so excited. She’d spent the whole day making that pot and he had brought her tea and food, telling her how great her work was. She finally fell asleep, trying to remember some of the things they had said that day, and feeling sad that she couldn’t.
The next morning, they woke up at the same time. The light eased through the curtains.
‘Good morning,’ she said.
‘Good morning, little Berg, how do you feel today?’
‘I feel good. Seems lovely outside.’
‘Great, I’m glad it’s nice out – I was thinking of going to town with Karl today.’
She got out of bed and stood by the window. The street was busy. A small dog sniffed at her car wheel whilst its owner looked on. She recognised the woman, though they had never talked. She wondered if the woman wanted children.
‘You were saying that the shop was low on stock,’ said Sjon, ‘I thought you’d like to make something today.’
She saw the condom on the floor beside the bed. Why wasn’t it his sperm that was pumped full of anti-freeze? Couldn’t he put it in the bin before passing out?
‘Don’t be like that,’ he said.
She turned to face him.
‘You know,’ said Sjon, ‘it’s fine. Why don’t we go for a hike together instead?’
They arrived at the beach an hour later and the moon was still visible.
‘It looks like a silver crisp,’ said Erika.
‘Or the eyelid of an exotic Arabian.’
They walked along the water’s edge, holding hands and following the tracks of a horse.
‘Look over there,’ she said, pointing at the wooden frame of a shipwrecked boat, ‘they say that’s the remains of the boat Torhild used when they first landed.’
‘That’s probably nonsense,’ said Sjon, ‘it looks far too recent.’
‘Probably, but it’s nice to have fairy tales. When we eventually have a kid, I’ll be telling her all about Torhild.’
‘Wouldn’t you prefer to teach it about the real world before disappointing it with unrealistic ideas?’
‘I just had my eggs harvested. I don’t think unrealistic ideas exist anymore.’
‘You know,’ he said, ‘science is the best kind of magic. It’s such an unbelievable idea, and yet it is real and useful.’
‘Sjon, can you please not start every sentence with “you know”? It’s driving me crazy.’
‘Sorry, little Berg. Why don’t we trek inland and take a walk on the ice?’
Between the rocks and the ice, there were signs warning walkers about the dangers of quick sand. At the edge of the glacier, the ice could melt into the mud and soften the earth.
‘Sjon, we’re definitely going to have a baby one day, aren’t we?’
‘I thought you were over this conversation. It’s tiring to have the same discussion again and again.’
‘I had a needle in my ovaries yesterday, so I’m sorry if I want to talk about it.’
‘I know. I’m sorry. Try to remember all the things we talked about. Growing your business, travelling in South America, all that fun stuff.’
‘I’m not sure about the business anymore; the kiln hasn’t been on for months.’
‘You just need to get back into your normal flow.’
They passed another sign, this one warning them about the dangers of thin ice. Erika took to her knees and cupped her hands to the surface to see through the glare. Were there any seeds down there? Any sprout of life waiting for a future? Life goes on, that’s what they say. Her child was no more and no less than a solitary, single cell, desperate to get knocked, suspended in time and space like a long-forgotten iceberg. She picked herself up from the ice and reached out to Sjon’s arm for support.
‘Do you think new parents seem happy?’ she asked.
‘It’s all hands on belly and picking names at first, but I think they get a shock when the sleep disappears. A lot of them seem miserable.’
‘I don’t think so.’
‘Of course. I mean that’s how I would feel. Anyone would.’
‘I don’t think I would.’
'You would be the worst. You love your lie-ins more than me.'
Erika stopped on the ice, suddenly, as if she had heard a crack. She wrapped her arms around Sjon and told him she loved him. Her gloves and scarf prevented their skin from touching.
She wrapped her arms around Sjon and told him she loved him
She had made a decision – it felt obvious now, inevitable. As the thought took shape, she imagined the heat of her kiln on her hands as she placed the clay inside. She saw a frozen waterfall in the distance. It would never melt at the glacier, but there was water behind it. She thought she heard it, drip, drip, drip, like the sound of a melting heartbeat.
Back at the house that evening, Erika sat in the bedroom on the cushioned window box with her arms resting on the ledge outside. From there, she could see the Atlantic Ocean in the distance, with its huge whales and strange creatures. In front of her arms, an island of moss had grown on the wooden ledge. She wondered if it harboured its own creatures, too small for her eyes to see. Perhaps some miraculous life had emerged in the grain of the wood, treated with a chemical compound to protect it from weather and colour it red.
She began packing her clothes. The last thing she packed in her suitcase was the cobalt pot from the bedside table. She would let Sjon keep everything else.
He was in the living room, stripping the plastic sheath from the television wire. He bundled the metal wires together, screwed the connector on and reinserted it into the back of the box. When Erika closed the front door behind her, she heard the television spring to life.
'I fixed it,' he called.
Song: Dirty Paws by Of Monsters and Men
Illustration by Colleen Maynard
Colleen Maynard has appeared in matchbook, NANO Fiction, and recently exhibited in the 2016 Drawing Biennial at the Appleton Museum of Art. Maynard graduated from the Kansas City Art Institute and trained at Illinois Natural History Survey in Botanical Illustration. She writes and draws at www.colleenmaynard.com.
Kevin Wilkinson's first published story was about a classroom of children with synaesthesia. Since then, he has continued to write about sensation and its influence on people's lives. He studied creative writing at Glasgow University.