Audur Ava Ólafsdóttir by Reykjavík, Iceland

Butterflies in November

An excerpt from the book by Ava Ólafsdóttir


My ex-lover phones me in the middle of the night to tell me he’s heard the news and wants to come over to give me his personal support.

“What news?”

“About the divorce.”

“So you probably heard it before I did then, like everyone else?”

He calls me three times on his mobile. The third time he tells me he’s pressing my bell with his elbow and wants to know if I intend to leave him locked outside. I point out that I haven’t locked him out and remind him that he was the one who told me it was all over between us a week ago. In any case I wasn’t going to open the door to him. If he wanted to meet me, it would have to be sober and in broad daylight. On skates on the lake, for example, I say rashly, without quite knowing where the idea came from. Probably because of the skates Mum had mentioned over the phone. It’s our last chance to go skating, because they’re forecasting a big thaw after the weekend. A lot of things will undoubtedly change after that. I actually bought myself some new skates ages ago, keep them at work, and sometimes go down to the lake for a spin when I can’t think of a word in a translation.

And then to make things worse I say:

“I’ll be there tomorrow at 5pm.”

When my mother delivered the skates to me, she included a pair of old trousers, folded, with a flowery strip embroidered at the bottom, that had belonged to me when I was 14.

I haven’t told her about the breakup yet. She’s right, though, when she says I don’t have the build to be a mother, I still fit into the trousers I wore when I was 14 years old.

“I went skating the night before I gave birth to you,” she tells me, “took three or four rounds with a friend, arm in arm. I was in a red woollen coat with my hair pinned up.”

She is probably confusing it with the ball they went to a few months earlier, but I don't say anything.

“Then I had this sudden pang of hunger, because I’d only had rice pudding for dinner. By the end of the fourth round, my hunger had turned into me feeling totally famished so I decided to walk home alone to eat some yoghurt and drink a glass of milk. If I’d decided to take an extra three rounds, you would have been born on the frozen lake bang in the middle of town.”

Chatting with my mum, I seem to vanish from the burden of the present and travel back to my origins. I feel squashed in amniotic fluid and my eyes are swollen.

“I suffered terribly when I gave birth to you, 36 hours of labour, five giving birth to your brother. Took me four months to recover, just physically I mean, after having you. I have to admit, in some ways I feel closer to your brother, he also calls me more often.”

Translation by Brian FitzGibbon