It’s Freezing in Grímsstaðir, Despair
Translated by: Christopher Crocker
Artwork by Alyssa Berris
Twenty degrees below in Grímsstaðir will bring forth twenty stories. The periodical will make for easy reading.
I get dressed, go out and spot the cobbler. I run over to him, and spin him towards me:
It’s freezing in Grímsstaðir, 20 degrees below.
He holds up the paper and points.
Two degrees, he says, and continues on his way.
I ask you, oh cobbler.
Have you come into the world in order to bear witness to the truth? Where is your eyewitness account? Who urged you to be truthful?
You poor devil. Twenty men are writing stories today. Twenty men who believe that it is 20 below in Grímsstaðir.
You have a great responsibility.
I thank you, cobbler. When the periodical comes out, I’ll become a critic. I will write:
The paper and the printing are of the best quality. The workmanship is impeccable, and the books are generally inviting – very suitable to be given as gifts. But it should be said that the stories are founded upon a misunderstanding: On the day in question it was only two degrees below in Grímsstaðir.
Hope was my wife, but reality cuckolded me. I hate it.
I walk up to the churchyard, leading a small child. We come to a burial chamber that I have built myself. And I speak to the child that is not my own:
Hold my hand, because inside this chamber there is not even a hint of a light. Don’t trip over your siblings’ coffins. Before long, they will rise up and haunt me. Be a good child and sit here on the corner of the coffin next to me. I want to try to amuse myself for a brief moment.
Your mother is gone. She was a brightly-dressed girl, who smiled. She is never coming back.
The last time she came she led you by the hand.
Kiss daddy, she said.
I jumped up, and clenched my fist:
She is not mine she belongs to him – the one I hate.
How should I know, she asked.
Whore, I screamed.
You take the child with you. She will comfort you when I'm gone. And she smiled, like she was performing an act of charity.
When you are gone, I said, and hid my face in my arms.
She is never coming back, and our children lie in these coffins. Before long, they will rise up and haunt me.
You are an odd child. You don’t stroke, you scratch. You don’t kiss, you bite. And your weeping is cold laughter.
All the same I love you – love you for the sake of your mother, who is gone.
Jón Thoroddsen was born in Ísafjörður, in the Vestfirðir (West fjords) of Iceland, on February 18, 1898. He died in Copenhagen at the age of 26 after having been struck by a streetcar. In his lifetime he published a book of poetry, Flugur (Flies) in 1922, as well as several other plays, poems and stories.
Christopher Crocker is a doctoral student at Háskóli Íslands (The University of Iceland), studying medieval Icelandic literature. He was born in Newfoundland, Canada.