MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
The weekend break in the remote north-west had been a sudden whim, a way of defying the autumn darkness. Having flung their things into Benedikt’s old Toyota, they had set out from Reykjavík in a high pitch of excitement. But the long drive, often on rough gravel roads, had taken hours, and night was closing in by the time they reached the West Fjords peninsula. They were still some way from the remote valley that was their goal and Benedikt was growing increasingly anxious.
They had driven over high moors, the treeless landscape stretching out bleak and ominously empty in the gathering dusk, and descended to the coast in the innermost arm of the great fjord known as Ísafjardardjúp. Benedikt relaxed his grip on the wheel as the road hugged the low shoreline for a while before rising to climb over another pass. His knuckles whitened again as the road began to descend, winding its way in hairpin bends back down to the sea. The mountains loomed long and low on either side, dimly visible in the gloom. There wasn’t so much as a pinprick of light to be seen. The fjord was uninhabited, its farms long deserted, the population having fled the hard living on the land, some for the small town of Ísafjördur, 140 kilometres away up the fjord-indented coast, others for the bright lights of Reykjavík in the far south-west of the country.
‘Haven’t we left it too late?’ Benedikt asked. ‘We’ll never be able to find the hut now it’s dark, will we?’ He had insisted on driving, despite never having visited this part of the country before.
‘Relax,’ she said. ‘I know the way. I’ve been up here loads of times during the summer.’
‘During the summer, right,’ Benedikt replied, focusing grimly on following the thin ribbon of road through its unpredictable twists and turns.
‘Now, now,’ she said, her voice light, laughter rippling just below the surface.
He’d been waiting so long for this moment, admiring this slight, high-spirited girl from afar and sensing that maybe, just maybe, she felt the same. But neither of them had made a move until a couple of weeks ago when something had finally shifted in their relationship and the spark had ignited a blaze.
‘Not far now to the Heydalur turn-off,’ she said.
‘Did you ever live up here?’
‘Me? No. But Dad’s from the West Fjords. He grew up in Ísafjördur. The summer house belonged to his family. We always used to come up here in the holidays. It’s like a sort of paradise.’
‘I believe you, though I don’t suppose I’ll be able to see much tonight. I can’t wait to get out of the dark.’ He paused, then added, doubtfully: ‘It does have electricity, doesn’t it?’
‘Cold water and candlelight,’ she replied.
‘Seriously?’ Benedikt groaned.
‘No, I’m kidding. There’s hot water – plenty of hot water – and electricity too.’
‘Did you tell … er, did you tell your parents we were coming up here?’
‘No. It’s none of their business. Mum’s not home and, anyway, I do what I like. All I told Dad was that I wouldn’t be around this weekend. My brother’s away too, so he doesn’t know either.’
‘OK. All I meant was … it’s their summer house, isn’t it?’ What he’d really wanted to know was whether her parents were aware that they were going away together, since it would send a pretty clear signal that they were starting a relationship. Up to now the whole thing had been a secret.
‘Yes, of course. It’s Dad’s house, but I know he’s not planning to use it. And I’ve got a key. It’ll be great, Benni. Just imagine the stars tonight: the sky’s supposed to be almost perfectly clear.’
He nodded, but his doubts about the wisdom of the undertaking wouldn’t go away.
‘Here, turn here,’ she said abruptly. He slammed on the brakes, almost losing control of the car and only just managing to make the turn. Finding himself on an even narrower road, hardly more than a track, he slowed to a crawl.
‘You’ll have to go faster than that or we won’t be there till morning. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.’
‘It’s just that I can’t see anything. And I don’t want to write off the car.’
She laughed, that bewitching sound, and he felt better at once. It was her voice and the guileless quality of her laugh that had originally drawn him to her. And now, at last, all the obstacles had been cleared from their path. He had an overpowering sense that it was meant to be; that this was only the beginning, a taste of the future.
‘Didn’t you say something about a hot tub?’ he asked. ‘It would be great to have a soak after bumping over these roads all day. I swear every bone in my body’s aching.’
‘Er, yes, right,’ she said.
‘Right? What do you mean? Is there a hot tub or not?’
‘You’ll see…’ This tantalizing sense of uncertainty was never far away with her. It was part of her charm; she had a gift for making even the mundane seem mysterious.
‘Well, anyway, I can’t wait.’
At last they entered the valley where the summer house was supposed to be. Benedikt still couldn’t make out any buildings in the gloom but she told him to stop the car and they both got out into the cold, fresh air.
‘Follow me. You need to learn to be more trusting.’ Laughing, she took his hand, with a feather-light touch, and he followed. He felt as if he were taking part in some beautiful black-and-white dream.
She stopped without warning. ‘Can you hear the sea?’
He shook his head. ‘No.’
‘Shh. Wait. Keep still and don’t talk. Just listen.’
He concentrated on listening and then heard the faint sighing of the waves. The whole thing seemed unreal, magical.
‘The shore isn’t far away. We can walk down there tomorrow, if you like?’
‘Great, I’d love that.’
A little further on they got their first glimpse of the summer house. In spite of the darkness he could see that it wasn’t particularly large or modern. It looked like one of those seventies A-shaped huts with the roof sloping almost to the ground on either side and windows at the front and back. She found the keys after searching in the pockets of her padded jacket, opened the door and flicked on the light, instantly dispelling the gloom. They entered a cosy living area, full of old furniture that lent the place a rustic charm. Benedikt sensed at once that it had a good atmosphere.
He was going to enjoy their stay, this weekend adventure in the middle of nowhere. The sense of isolation was enhanced by the thought that nobody knew they were there; they had a whole valley to themselves. It really was like a dream.
Copyright © 2016 by Ragnar Jónasson