By Aðalsteinn Emil Aðalsteinsson.
Drawn from a Chronicle.
Excerpted from The Sleep Garden (Svefngarðurinn, Dimma, 2021)
Translated from Icelandic by Mark Ioli.
AND SO, IN light of all we have related here above, we feel it safe to conclude that the last thought Eyjólfur the painter from Ystanes had, before tumbling from that snow cornice and vanishing into Ódáinsgil ravine during the month of Þorri, was how excited he was at the prospect of lying atop Hrafnhildur, widow of the district council chairman.
We shall now discuss the events surrounding the accident itself.
Weather journals note a cold northeasterly wind blowing from around midnight, some sea ice near the mouth of the fjord, and a considerable amount of driving snow along the ridge. Snowdrifts falling over the cliff face. The dearly departed Eyjólfur had set out early from Ystanes but was forced to travel the longer route across the Jökulfljót river, as ferryman Hálfdán Jennson had – as did we who record this – been attending a Þorrablót celebration at the district administrator’s residence in Mýri the night before, and was consequently a bit indisposed. Our late Eyjólfur reached the southern bank around midday. The weather journals also mention there were breaks in the clouds around noontime, with periods of scattered sunshine, and there is no doubt that Eyjólfur maintained a brisk pace, aware as he was that at that very moment Hrafnhildur lay beneath an eiderdown duvet beside a piping hot radiator, wearing nothing but her woolen knit stockings.
Some may feel it unnecessary to point out the following, as Eyjólfur was well-known in these parts, but future readers should bear in mind that Eyjólfur did not paint houses but rather paintings. And it seems to be the curse of those who engage in those lofty arts, such as painting or poetry, that inspiration may strike at any moment and with little warning. He would have been but a short distance from the village when those sunbeams reached down from above and applied that heavenly gilding to the bay (that’s how our dear departed Eyjólfur would have worded it). It was in that moment he inched closer to the edge in order to feast his eyes on this splendor.
We will quote Eyjólfur here directly, as he was truly eloquent, who explained that anytime such compulsions came over him he felt like a hydrogen balloon. “The only thing holding me fast to the earth is my own physical strength,” he said with his notorious wit. These states would last a varying length of time, he said, but would always force him to lie in bed from two to three weeks while he recovered from their aftereffects. We now know that those who travel on a shank’s mare in these parts must mind every step, as should they lose their earthly moorings for even an instant they can expect all hell to break loose.
Snow had been heaping down for days prior, blowing into snowdrifts while overhangs formed across ravines and crevasses. The reflected light off the glacier was blinding and Eyjólfur’s vision impaired as such. Like the snap of a finger the earth dropped away beneath his feet and he found himself in free fall between two black cliff faces, the world turned upside down—in the rift between the rock walls he glimpsed a sunlit ocean high in the sky, and a cloudless azure beneath the water. The first trawler the village ever had, the Guðmundur Grey, was out on the bay fishing downside up.
The late Eyjólfur from Ystnes, who had dedicated his life to capturing the beauty of the world on canvas, had unboubtedly seen in that moment the most exquisite vision he had ever laid eyes on; hurtling down a dark ravine he discovered the golden perspective, consumed by sorrow over the fact that he would never have the opportunity to paint what his eyes beheld.
Aðalsteinn Emil Aðalsteinsson (b. 1994) is an Icelandic author whose stories and literary articles have appeared in several Icelandic journals. He has served as editor for the cultural journal Skandali and appeared in culture-related podcasts and radio programs. His first book, the 2020 short-story collection 500 Days of Rain, was published in part with a grant from the Icelandic Literature Center that is awarded to emerging authors. His latest collection, The Sleep Garden, came out in 2021.
Mark Ioli is a literary translator who called Reykjavík home for over four years. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he studied Russian, Polish, and Spanish before becoming fascinated by Icelandic, and in 2017 moved to Iceland to continue learning the language and rich literary history of this remote island. His translations have appeared in Asymptote, Iceland Review, and Another Chicago Magazine.