Nine Months (Month Two)
Kelly is stranded in Iceland in a female body suit while Jamie, now James, is off shooting a film. Her friendship with Siggy develops, but is she hiding a secret? Why does Siggy have such a problem with Kelly drinking, and if she keeps getting sick every morning should Kelly listen to her?
The day after the 'men' left, Siggy woke me up early.
"Urgh, what time is it?" I moaned, putting the pillow over my head. The light hurt my eyes and my mouth felt woolly.
"7am, come on, let’s get moving,” she said, pulling off the blanket.
"Seven? Let me sleep." I was up at 7am or earlier most working days. It’s amazing how quickly you can get used to late mornings.
"Just because the boys are away doesn't mean we can't have fun.”
"Huh?" It was still weird to not be included as one of the ‘boys.’
"I thought we'd take a drive for the day."
"Ummm," I moaned.
"Come on, let’s get coffee."
Reluctantly I got dressed. I pulled my hair back into a high ponytail and checked myself out in the mirror. I could see the nanos working, recreating a makeup job on my face. It was strange to think of them moving under my skin, or ‘false’ skin. I went to put on a pair of jeans but they all looked too tight for a long car journey. Reluctantly, I chose a black pinafore dress Jamie had bought back at Uni (which now fit me and had, by virtue of time, come back into style!) and Jamie’s warm Icelandic wool sweater. It was too big for me making me wonder how small I was getting. It looked baggy, but it’d keep me warm and remind me of her. I thought about that for a second and realised I was behaving like a stereotypical ‘girlfriend’ or ‘wife’. I put a pair of woolen tights under the dress, and pulled on thick socks and Dr Marten boots.
We started off in a little cafe around the corner from Siggy and Egon's place. Given the way most people dressed, we could have been in Berlin, East London or Brooklyn. We sat at the window watching the world pass by, me constantly pushing the fringe of my hair out of my eyes, Siggy chatting about the possible places we could visit. It was odd to see Reykjavik in the morning. It was a real city, full of people with jobs and kids who needed to get to school.
"Hihi, can we sit down?"
I looked around just in time to see two men sit either side of us.
"Hihi Kirtsjan! Dagur!" Siggy exclaimed, "When did you get back?” They all started talking excitedly in their own language. I caught, ‘Copenhagen,’ ‘Berlin’ and ‘London.’ I guessed that Kristjan and Dagur had been in Copenhagen and Berlin, since I knew that Siggy had been in London, where I met her.
After a few minutes, Siggy remembered me. "This is Kelly, a friend from London."
I smiled and nodded to the two men.
"Kelly, this is Kirtsjan and Dagur. We went to school together. I haven't seen them in years!"
"Hey," I extended my hand to both the men who took and shook it in turn. My hand looked small in theirs. I could feel their extra strength as they squeezed.
"What are you up to?" Kirtsjan was the taller, and seemed to be the more forward of the two.
"We were thinking of a drive."
"We are driving up to the Library of Water in Stykkisholmur. Do you want to come? We could drive around Snaefellsnes."
"What do you think?"
All three of them looked at me. I shrugged. I didn't recognise the places they had mentioned. Still, I was up for an adventure. I couldn’t spend my whole life moping around waiting for Jamie, and who knew, it could give me inspiration. “Sure,” I mumbled. I tried to pronounce the names and eventually gave up and said, “those sound great.”
Siggy and Kirtsjan sat up front with Dagur and me in the back.
I was watching the suburbs of Reykjavik disappearing when Dagur spoke, "I am going to meet an artist."
"Huh?" My mind had been on the passing houses, humming the Pete Seeger song Little Boxes. They all looked just the same.
"At The Library of Water. He's a German artist, from Berlin. He's making a film."
It was hard to make Dagur out over the drone of the engine and the loud music coming from the front of the car.
"How come you're meeting him?"
"I run a gallery in Berlin."
"I come over to London a lot. Do you know the Whitechapel?"
"Yes, I used to go to the previews."
"I curated a show of contemporary art from Scandinavia there two years ago."
"Impressive." It was, until I realised that he was trying to impress me - or the girl in front of him. Who was me or wasn’t. I wasn’t sure.
He looked out the window, apparently satisfied I'd acknowledged his achievement. For the next hour or so, I mostly kept quiet listening to the others. They were all school friends and had left, like many young Icelanders, after the crash in 2007/8. The conversation would switch between Icelandic and then, once they remembered I was there, English. Honestly, I didn’t care. I was busy watching the scenery and thinking about everything. Every so often, my stomach would do a little flip. I chalked it up to a hangover and the long bumpy car ride.
"When you left University in the boom years, they gave you a loan to buy a car and house, even if you didn't have a job," Siggy explained.
"Then the banks crashed and we all had to move abroad to be able to afford the interest." Kristjan finished.
I thought back to the suburbs of Reykjavik with the new looking houses and expensive German cars. I wondered how many of their owners were now working someplace else to be able just to keep them here. It reminded me of the Irish who, after the crash, went to London or the United States to work and left empty McMansions behind.
Around lunchtime, we stopped at a little petrol station near the sea. We ate the obligatory Icelandic hot dogs and drank Coke. My stomach calmed down a little. Maybe I was just hungry.
"You live in Berlin?" I asked, trying to make conversation. I couldn’t competently discuss pre-crash Iceland.
"Yes," Dagur said, with a smile.
"They do good sausages in Germany," I mused. I'd eaten a lot of hot dogs by that point.
"I suppose. Don’t you like Icelandic hot dogs?" He punched me gently on the arm.
"They are OK I suppose. I would kill for a Cumberland." I'd have gone for anything that didn't make me worry I was eating toenails.
“I’m sorry my sausage doesn’t satisfy you,” he laughed and walked away. For the first time, I realised that we may have been having two different conversations.
Back in the car, I let Siggy, Kristjan and Dagur talk. I felt bad the three of them having to talk in English so, instead of imposing myself on the conversation, I kept to myself, not that I was bored. Iceland had plenty of scenery to keep me interested.
I'd been reading about the history of the country. How a group of male Vikings had left Norway looking for a land of their own. How they had kidnapped women from what is now Britain and Ireland on their way, and in raiding parties later. I found myself imagining being dragged away from everything I’d known, having to make a new life for myself in the harsh new environment. I stopped when I realised I was imagining myself in the female role. I might never have been the marauding barbarian, if I was being honest with myself, but I certainly wasn't ready to be the damsel in distress.
"I said we are going to stop at Jokulsarlon," Siggy said.
"Huh?" I turned when it dawned on me they were talking to me again. Realising I needed to say something more, I added, "What's a Jokulsarlon?"
Jokulsarlon was my first glacial lake. Despite it being spring/Summer there was still ice floating in the water. In place, the water had turned a bright blue. a product of the melting ice.
"Every year the ice melts more." I turned to look at Dagur. He looked very Icelandic with the wind whipping his beard and blond hair. His eyes were the color of the water. I was concerned that I realised that. "That's what the Library of Water is all about. An English artist, Roni Horn, started it by collecting water samples from melting glaciers."
"Is that what your friend's film is about?"
"No," he shook his head. "His film is about the first settlers to reach the island. Imagining what it’d be like to go somewhere humans hadn’t yet touched. Iceland was covered in trees back then."
I looked around at the stark landscape trying to imagine it covered in forest.
"He's doing it on human impact, just in a poetic way."
I nodded, again I imagined myself brought to this place, forced to make a new life here. I didn’t have to imagine very hard and I pulled my sweater tightly around myself. Iceland was different up here, more wild. Reykjavik may feel like a last outpost of human habitation, but it is still under human control. Up here it felt like we were in nature's territory.
We stayed for an hour or more. Walking around in the strange landscape, I was glad of my tough Dr Martens and my extra thick wool socks and tights. For some reason, I felt the cold more in the bodysuit. I had thought the extra layer would be warm, possibly too warm. Perhaps it was the body weight I’d lost, or maybe the nanos were just too good at passing on experience. The other three mainly talked in Icelandic laughing and enjoying each other's company. I assumed they were going over old stories from school. I was happy to stay quiet. It was with reluctance that we returned to the car.
Many of the roads in Snaefellsnes were little more than dirt tracks. Even with three locals, we nearly got lost several times. I wasn't worried. It fascinated me, the strangeness like another planet. By the time we reached the outskirts of Stykkisholmur, it was late afternoon. We stopped at a little petrol station for supplies. Dagur disappeared to the loos, and Siggy and Kirtsjan went into the little shop to pay. I joined them, more to stretch my legs than anything.
I wandered around the shop, not really paying attention to what they had. It was a pretty limited offering, about what you'd expect in a small rural shop/petrol station. I kept half an eye on my two friends as they paid for our petrol.
They seemed to be caught in a deep discussion with the middle-aged woman manning the till. Something was up.
"The ring road is out both ways out of Snaefellsnes," Siggy reported.
"The warm weather has caused landslides. It happens often this time of year," Kirtsjan added.
"Shit, what does that mean. Are we stuck?" I half-asked, half-moaned.
"Yes, probably for one night at least."
"Is there somewhere we can stay?" I didn't like the idea of sleeping in the car.
"The woman says there's a..." Kirtsjan looked at Siggy
".. like a youth hostel. In the next town." Siggy finished for him.
I looked over at the woman and grinned my thanks. She looked back with little interest.
Back at the car we explained to Dagur what was happening. He disappeared to call his friend and we sat around waiting. In silence, Siggy passed around a large bag of crisps. Wherever we were going, I hoped it had real food.
Dagur's artist friend wasn't going to be able to make it thanks to the road closures. Dagur made plans to meet him in a few days in Reykjavik, so clearly this journey hadn't been all that essential. By this point, we were all feeling tired and hungry so we decided to head to the hostel.
It looked pretty much how hostels do. clean but nothing fancy. I was a little surprised to hear we'd be sharing two bunk beds in the same room. That said, I didn't know who I'd be the least comfortable sharing with. Technically, it should have been Siggy, but, as she seemed to see me as another girl, I didn’t see it as a problem, at least for now. I hoped Jamie would see it the same way.
After unloading our stuff, in my case not much - I'd only planned on a day trip, we decided to explore the little town. From what we had been told, there were two options for eating and entertainment. One was a restaurant down by the docks. This didn't look very inviting and the place smelled too much of fish, which inexplicably turned my stomach. I had to find the loo and throw up. The second place was a combination of main store (possibly the only store), bar and garage. The rest didn't bother me but the bar seemed friendly enough from the outside.
We found a little table near the back and sat down. Kristjan and Siggy went up to order for us.
"Are you disappointed about your friend?"
Dagur shrugged, "Not really, I'll catch him in a few days."
When he smiled, the skin wrinkled around his eyes. His skin was that mixture of tough and glowing that the Icelanders get from exposure from the elements. I realised that, without knowing he went to school with Siggy, I wouldn't have been able to place his age. He could have been anywhere between his late twenties and early forties.
"To be honest what I really wanted was to visit home and meet a pretty English girl."
I was about to put him right when Siggy and Kirtsjan returned with beer.
Food arrived a little later. Dagur laughed at how large the burger looked in my small hands.
"With a diet like this, I'll start putting on weight," I laughed.
"Don't be stupid, you’re tiny." Siggy informed me with characteristic Icelandic bluntness. “Besides, you need to eat something.” After she said that, she look away. She had a habit of fiddling with the cuffs of her shirt when she was nervous.
And she was right. I was. If anything, I'd lost weight, and maybe even a little height since putting on the suit. I had some idea of how it converted body mass into energy, but I wasn't sure how it would convert it back. I didn't want to end up as a pint sized version of myself.
We heard music coming from another part of the bar, it sounded live.
"I'm going to investigate," Dagur got up, "Anyone want another drink?"
"I'll have one," I smiled the tiredness and alcohol were weaving their magic.
Siggy surprised me, "Perhaps you shouldn't. We can't drink as much as the boys," she said, with a serious look. “You’ve had a lot lately.” Again, she looked like she said something she shouldn’t, but then I decided that I was just tired.
I'd never heard an Icelandic woman admit to not being able to do anything as well as 'the boys,’ let alone drinking, which was pretty much like breathing to them. I used to think we drank a lot, and we do. I’d say the French drink because they like the taste of wine. The English drink because we like the feeling of being drunk. The Icelanders, and other Nordic peoples, drink to erase time and space.
"Bollocks to that. I'll drink anyone under the table." I said, in what I hoped was a lighthearted way. "I'll give you a hand."
The bar seemed terribly high to me, which again made me worry about losing height. As Dagur ordered two more beers for us (I was tempted to suggest he order an orange juice for Siggy), I looked around for the source of the music.
Eventually I spotted it. In one corner were five men of differing ages. Three had acoustic guitars, one some sort of percussion instrument and the final one a violin. They started to play. I didn't recognise the song but was immediately taken in by their voices. Again, I thought what it must have been like to have been spirited away here, only this time I didn’t think it’d be so bad.
Dagur handed me a pint and we stood watching them play. After a second song, they started playing something akin to a jig. Dagur put his pint down and offered me his hand. Something, maybe the tiredness combined with the drink, maybe my annoyance with Siggy 'policing' me, made me take it.
His hands held me by my narrow waist as we swayed gently. It felt awkward but also freeing. I pulled away, not wanting him to get the wrong idea. He took my hand. "You know swing?" he asked, with a smile. I was surprised but went along.
Jamie had dragged me along to swing dance classes for nearly a year. While I was never really any good, Dagur was. He kept in time while moving me expertly. For my part, I was enjoying how much easier the woman's part was than the man's. You just had to follow.
At the end of the song, he further took me by surprise. I went for a twirl and he caught me as I'd hoped, but then he tipped me. I had to cling on to his neck to avoid landing on my bum. There was a spattering of applause and few laughs, probably directed at the confused look on my face.
The barman smiled as we past him. "Whisky," he indicated the bar, "For you both."
As we picked up the drinks I noticed the concerned look on Siggy’s face. This time I felt bad. She probably thought I was leading on a good friend of hers, not to mention messing around behind Jamie's back. As I sat back down, I smoothed my skirt underneath me placing my hands in my lap.
"Perhaps we could go for a walk?" I offered as a conciliatory measure.
"Good idea," Kirtsjan interjected, "I have a bottle of vodka in the boot of the car."
I had meant just Siggy and me, but didn't know how to turn them down without being rude. Siggy looked worried. I resolved to reassure her nothing was going on between me and Dagur as soon as I got a chance.
We ended up walking a little way out of town to a small stream. I wanted to stop by a large pile of stones and rest on them. The rest of the ground was covered in wet moss and grass, but the Icelanders demurred. I picked up Kristjan muttering something about 'Huldufólk', which I knew to mean elves. The Icelanders hated to admit it but they were a superstitious lot.
In the end, we stopped about halfway before the mountain. The two boys took off their boots and bathed their feet in the clear water. I imagine it was freezing cold coming from the glacier held back by the mountains. The mountains themselves were carved out by the ice moving across the landscape long ago. Watching them relaxing, I wanted to join them, but that'd mean taking off my tights. It was too cold for that. I also didn’t like the way Dagur’s eyes lingered on my legs. I had no intention of giving him a show.
I took the opportunity to take Siggy to one side. "Is everything OK?"
Again he looked like she wanted to say something. She stayed silent, fiddling with her hair.
"I'm not leading Dagur on. At least not intentionally."
She sighed, and for a moment I thought she was going to let me have it. "I don't think that." Her smile was full of warmth, "I'm just worried.. All the drinking... It might have an effect on...,” she looked away, “you, because of the suit." She sighed and gave up trying to explain herself.
I laughed a little, "Is that it? Look, as far as I know drink has no effect on the nano suits."
She put a hand on my shoulder, "It’s not the nano suit. You are smaller now, less body weight. Alcohol will have more effect. I wasn't joking before," she looked over at the two boys who were paying us no attention, "Kristjan, Dagur, James even. They are good guys but some men will want to take advantage."
"I can handle myself." I never liked admitting to weakness and didn’t want to do so then.
"Maybe, normally, but not drunk and not this small. Some guys don't take no for an answer. "
I was about to come up with some flippant reply but then I noticed something in her eyes.
"It happened to me once, in London," she said, looking down .
"Shit Siggy, I didn't know," I took her in a hug. "Do the others know?"
"Egon yes, he's been brilliant. But not James, please don't tell him, or anyone else." I was surprised that she had never told Jamie, and how she thought of her as “James” and “him.” I was more surprised that she confided in me, that she saw me as another woman. She wiped her eyes with the sleeves of her coat. We caught each other's eyes and, in spite of ourselves, we laughed. I hugged her closer noticing how she was slightly taller than me now. "We should go see them soon,” she said.
"Yes," I replied emphatically, trying to lighten the mood and make her feel better. "We'll do a road trip at the weekend." It was only then I realised how much I missed Jamie. I knew I wouldn't tell her about Siggy's secret, not unless Siggy said it was OK, but somehow I knew being near Jamie would make me feel all the better.
That night we stayed up late playing cards. I've never been much of a poker player. I always forget the rules. The boys passed around Kristjan’s vodka bottle, but both Siggy and I stuck to tea. We slept on the same bed that night, Siggy and I. Fully clothed of course.
Even at the start of May there was snow outside the window.
“Hey, can’t we try having sex the normal way?” I pouted at Jamie and then hated myself for it. We, Siggy and me, drove up north, taking the road that goes around the whole country. With the filming schedule being so packed, this was the only way we would get to see them. Our conjugal visit, Siggy jokingly called it.
“We do have sex the normal way,” sighed Jamie. I detected a note of annoyance in her voice. She sat on the edge of the bed.
“You know what I mean,” I got out from under the covers and crawled over to her. First I leaned my head on her back and then I kissed her artificially enlarged shoulders, the way I knew she liked.
“We wouldn’t even have to take our full body suits off, just free our genitals,” Jamie turned her head to the side and I took the opportunity to kiss her cheek.
“OK then,” she agreed, begrudgingly. “First, we do it this way.” This is what relationships are about folks, compromise. That and I was horny and needed the release.
Jamie turned around quickly and, placed her hands under my armpits, using the enhanced strength in her arms she threw me back onto the bed.
The sex was, to say the least, strange. While Jamie was pumping away, my mind kept drifting. I kept wondering why she was so adamantly opposed to having it the way we used to. I wondered what, or who, she had been doing on set while I was in Reykjavik. When she finally came, we freed our genitals. The second time, the sex was just weird and desultory. It was strange to be the girl, looking down at a man, yet having sex the old way. I would call it the ‘normal’ way, but it wasn’t. I had no upper body strength and it was much harder for me to hold myself up. That, and given the difference in height, I was staring at Jamie’s sternum, not her face. Jamie looked like she couldn’t wait for it to be over. As a result of all of the awkwardness, it took me forever to come.
It must have been early when Jamie got up. It was still dark outside. I watched the grey outline of her male body as she got dressed. I felt a woozy sense of contentment coming from the long love making session, I doubt we had slept more than two hours. I felt sorry for her having a long day of filming ahead of her. But I had the physical exhaustion from the long hours of driving to deal with. It helped to know that I would be able to go back asleep once she had left.
She leaned over me smiling. I put my arms around her and pulled her into a long deep kiss.
“Get some sleep,” she smiled, “keep your stamina up for later,” then she was gone. I felt great as I drifted back off to sleep.
When I woke again, the clock said 10:32. Shit, I had missed breakfast. I hoped Siggy hadn’t headed out without me? We were meant to be out exploring while they filmed. I got up realising I was completely naked apart from the body suit. Almost all of my body suit, I had to find my fake pussy. I pulled it back on, not wanting to risk exposure, then sat there sighing as the soothing gel spread out relieving my crushed genitals.
After a few minutes, I got up and started looking for my case. It wasn’t near the chair where I had left it. I went to the wardrobe, thinking Jamie may have hung my clothes up. She was always on at me to take better care of them, especially as I was now the one in the dresses and skirts. But no, it wasn’t there. I checked under the bed and in every corner of the room, not that there were many places to hide something so big.
Finally, in desperation, I checked the bathroom. There were no clothes but there was a note taped to the mirror. I ripped it off and read it:
“Hey sexy, I didn’t want to wake you. I do want to spend the day thinking about you waiting naked for me in our bed. See you in a few hours, enjoy room service xxxx”
God damn her kinky side. I didn’t have long to think about it as there was a knocking at the door. I ran back into the bedroom. I pulled a sheet off the bed and wrapped it around me from my armpits down. Composing myself, I opened the door.
“Hey you? Why aren’t you ready?” Siggy said brightly. She looked refreshed and ready to go.
“Urgh,” I groaned, “I’m feeling a little worse for wear.” Or worse for nothing to wear, as the case may be.
“You do look a little green,” she said brushing my forehead with her hand, “And you feel hot as well.” She looked more worried than a hangover and fever warranted.
It was at that moment that I felt my stomach lurching. Without any notice, I started retching. I had one, maybe two minutes to get to safety. Without another word, I turned and ran to the bathroom, flinging my arms around the toilet basin just in time. As I started hurling, I felt Siggy’s hands pulling back my hair and stroking my back. With a jolt, I realised the sheet had fallen off me as I ran.
There was no time to worry about it as I knelt there emptying my stomach’s contents. I sat there, slumped on the floor, for ten, maybe twenty minutes before I was sure it was safe enough for me to lean back. Siggy went and got a damp cloth from the shower and placed it on my forehead.
“What happened?” she asked.
I thought about the two-thirds empty vodka bottle on the bedside table. Jamie had insisted. “Drinking on an empty stomach,” I said, my voice hoarse and my mouth tasting like bile.
Siggy looked upset. “James needs to stop these games. He can’t keep you up all night like this,” Siggy muttered, as much to herself as me. I didn’t appreciate being treated like a fragile child, but I couldn’t really disagree given the circumstances.
“Do you want me to stay with you?” Siggy asked, taking the damp cloth from my forehead and checking my temperature.
I shook my head. “No,” I said. “It’s not the first time I’ve done this. I just need some rest. Go have fun. Say hi to Eggy for me. I’ll sleep it off and be good as new.”
“OK,” she said warily. “Promise me you won’t do this again. You can’t drink like this anymore,” she said.
I didn’t know what to say. I was about to say, “Thanks, mum,” but the look of pure concern on her face made me hold back. Instead, I smiled and said, “I think I’ve learned my lesson.”
She helped me back into bed, tucked me in and kissed me on the forehead. I heard the sounds of cleaning for about ten minutes and the toilet flushing.
When she returned, I thanked her, “You didn’t have to,” I said. She just smiled and kissed me on the forehead again. It was thoughtful of her. I was glad I wouldn’t have to face a mess in a few hours.
“Do you want anything?” She looked concerned. “Something to eat, perhaps, to,” and she paused, “keep up your strength.”
“No really, I am OK,” and I really was, the nausea having already passed. “I guess I just needed to get it out of my system. I just need to rest.”
“OK,” she squeezed my hand, “I’ll leave you in peace.”
After she left, I looked for my laptop and realised that Jamie had hidden it along with my clothes. I assumed that she had just put it somewhere safe, and so I turned on the TV. Thankfully, Icelandic TV shows lots of British shows, just with subtitles. It’s one of the reasons they speak such good English. Still, it felt odd to be watching Silent Witness and Inspector Morse inside the Arctic Circle.
It was past 7pm before I finally heard Jamie’s electronic key in the door. I sat up in bed pulling my legs, and the sheets to my chest. I was not best pleased. It had been a long, boring day watching endless TV. At least I was feeling better. I hadn’t eaten.
“You look adorable,” Jamie chuckled as she came through the door. Not the right thing to say. I crossed my arms in a huff. I noticed she was pulling my wheelie suitcase behind her.
“Sorry hun,” she tried to console me. “I just couldn’t resist.” She sat on the other side of the bed to me.
She put her arm around me and I moved away abruptly. “Do you know how many episodes of Inspector Morse I’ve watched? I actually got through two episodes of The Killing in its original Danish I was so bored,” I was in no mood to just forgive her.
“Did you learn any useful words?” She used her calm voice, the one she used when she knew I was angry with her.
“Takk,” I said, trying to suppress a smile at my useless language skills.
“It was a stupid prank,” she conceded, “But I did think a day’s rest would do you good. You looked a little under the weather.” Her voice indicated a note of concern, she reached out and stroked my foot. I didn’t pull away. I didn’t want to ruin the weekend.
“I was throwing up this morning.”
“Really?” She looked concerned for a second and then her face turned impassive.
I shrugged, “I am feeling much better now. And you still shouldn’t have done it. You could have left me something to wear. It’s cold here, you know.”
Jamie seemed really happy that I was feeling better, which warmed my mood a little. She kept flicking little guilty looks my way and I enjoyed the feeling of having some control back in our relationship.
“Look, I got you a present,” she indicated a large smooth rock she puts on the bed, “It’s from a volcano, I got it for you. And Angela and Karen are taking us out. If you feel up to it that is?”
“I am not sure.” I knew what I had promised Siggy and knew that I would be better off if I kept the promise, but I felt better and had a severe case of cabin fever. “Fine,” I sighed. “We can go, but I need to take it easy tonight, OK?”
Jamie smirked, “OK. Thanks. I promise.”
There was only one bar in town and, unsurprisingly it was crowded. It took us an age to get to the bar as cast and crew from the film kept stopping ‘James’ to say hi. It was clear that she/he was popular. It felt good to bask in a little of ‘his’ reflective popularity. ‘James’ introduced everyone to me, far too many names for me to remember. Everyone greeted me with hugs and kisses, but I don’t think a single one of them asked me much beyond my name, and how long James and I had been together.
She led me to a cubicle at the back where Angela and Karen were holding court. Sitting opposite them were Siggy and Egon. I budged in next to Siggy and Jamie offered to go to the bar for the table.
“I’ll have a beer,” I said.
Siggy looked at me and said, “I thought we talked about this.” Everyone looked at her and I noticed the concerned look that she gave Jamie, who sat there impassively.
She was right but I never liked being called out in front of everyone. “One beer, Siggy. I’ll be fine.” Siggy looked at me and then Jamie, as if she expected her to say something. She started to say something and then said, with a smile, “I’m not cleaning up again.”
It was fun to have the gang back together again. Angela kept talking about how well the filming was going and how great James was. I doubt she would have said anything if it wasn’t, but her sheer levels of enthusiasm persuaded me it was at least partly true.
Egon had many stories to tell of the trouble of filming out in the cold, getting equipment out to remote locations and moaning actors. ”Not you, of course,” he reassured Jamie. I could see Siggy holding on to his arm and I remembered the fertility book I found in their house.
Jamie and I had been trying for a long time before we got the bad news that it would be unlikely we would conceive, what with my low sperm count and her ‘hostile’ womb. It pained me when I thought about it; I knew Jamie hated it too, although she refused to talk about it. I hopped Siggy and Egon would be spared the same pain.
I nursed my beer for a while. When Siggy went away, I got up and got another one. I drank it quickly to avoid her criticizing me and felt it go to my head. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a concerned look flit across Jamie’s face, which made me even angrier. ‘How dare she?’ I thought. ‘After how she left me.’ Then I thought better. I didn’t want to waste this rare weekend together on a stupid argument. Still, why was she pouting over two beers?
There came a moment when we were left on our own. “What are you doing, why are you drinking so much?” Her voice was low but angry.
“Who do you think you are?” I said, not keeping my voice down. “First, you leave me naked all day without my laptop. And I’ve had, what, two to your six, seven? Why are you being such an arse?”
Siggy looked at Jamie, then me. “He wasn’t throwing up this morning. You were and you promised.”
I felt chastened. Siggy was there for me this morning. She was there for me with Kristjan and Dagur and she was just concerned. My ego wouldn’t let me admit that though, so I just stared at them.
Jamie looked at me and said, “What? Siggy’s just concerned for you. Don’t be angry at her.”
“I. Am not angry. At her,” I said, through gritted teeth.
Thankfully, Egon came back from the toilet and halted further escalation. It didn’t matter, our weekend was ruined. We stayed longer than most, leaving only when the staff started putting chairs on tables and mopping.
We left the bar, and I walked away from Jamie. Behind me, I could hear Egon and Siggy arguing in German, and I assumed it was about us.
Jamie caught up to me and tried to take my arm. I knew she’d try and explain herself and that, if she did, I’d forgive her like I always did. Like any good actress (or, I guessed, now actor), she knew how to manipulate her audience and I wasn’t interested in that, not now at least. I stormed off, leaving the other three in my wake. I felt bad that Egon and Siggy were in the middle of this, but it was too late for that.
As I walked away, I heard Siggy and Jamie arguing, although I was too far away to make out what was being said. Then Siggy shouted, “James, you have to tell her!”
I turned around and stormed back. “Tell her?” I yelled then corrected myself, “Tell me what?”
Jamie looked like she was about to die. Even under the nano skin I could recognise her expression. She was about to tell me something terrible. Fuck, I thought, this is it. She’s been cheating on me, or she has cancer. She just stood there, not able to speak. I didn’t know whether to be mad or understanding. In the end, Siggy broke first.
She took my arm. “Kelly, you’re pregnant.”
I wanted to laugh, “Are you crazy?” I look her in face expecting to see that impish grin of hers appear, “Look, I know these suits are convincing but come on. I am still a man underneath all this.” Then, in the back of mind, it dawned on me. Telling me to rest, trying to stop the drinking, it all made sense. I didn’t want it to, but it did.
Jamie still said nothing and stood there, alternating looks of shame and impassivity. Siggy glared at her and then continued. “She was desperate. When she bought the suits, she thought that it would be like a surrogate. That she would be able to have a baby. You know how much she wants a baby. She was supposed to wear the suit. It was supposed to be a surprise,” she said, tailing off.
“Surprise,” I said, mirthlessly.
Jamie finally regained her voice, “It was a surprise but then that fucking company messed everything up.”
I couldn’t respond. Jamie stood there ashamed. The only sound was Siggy and Egon arguing in German. It was obvious that he and I were just hearing about this now. I guess that I was, for now, one of the ‘guys’ again.
To say that the argument went on for a while, would be an understatement.
“How long did you two plan to keep this a secret?” I screamed at Jamie and Siggy.
Jamie alternated apologising and defending herself. “You. You. You. It’s all about you. What about me? It was supposed to me,” and she started to tear up. If we had been us, I would’ve caved then. Jamie knew that tears would always get to me. However, seeing ‘James’ cry disgusted me. ‘Be a man,’ I thought. ‘One of us should be.’
“Are you serious?” I screamed. “Look at me.” She looked at the ground. “LOOK AT ME!” I screamed. She looked at me and then looked at Siggy and Egon. Siggy look mortified. Egon looked disgusted.
Siggy looked like she wanted to say something, but Egon glared at her and put his hand on her arm. She said something in German and then they started arguing. This continued from the street to the car to the house. Finally, at five AM, the fight went out of me. My head was weary with talking. I knew why she had done it, I even sympathised on some level. Had I realised how desperate she was? Probably not, not before then. Perhaps the fault was partly mine for not realising. All I knew then was that I couldn’t be around her, not now.
“So, does this mean we are over?” she said, her face looking impassive. I don’t know what I expected, maybe not crying, but something more.
I was about to say, “yes,” but somewhere deep in that male face was the face of the woman I loved. I looked into her eyes and saw Jamie. Instead, I said, “I don’t know. I need time.”
She just nodded solemnly, like I was a doctor telling her a growth had come back.
I stood outside Egon and Siggy’s room. It was silent and I assumed that they had fallen asleep. I was going to let them sleep but I needed to get away now and couldn’t call an Uber. I knocked and Egon opened the door. He had clearly been asleep but he didn’t look surprised to see me. “Come in,” he said.
“I need to go back to Reykjavik,” I told him flatly.
“Of course, I can see if any of the crew are driving back.” He said. He didn’t ask me any questions and I loved him for it.
“No. I need to go straight away, now.” I stated.
Siggy got out of bed and started getting dressed. “I will drive you,” she said.
“When did she tell you?” I had no time for talking around the houses.
Siggy’s voice went quiet. “Just after you arrived,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m sorry. I should have told you.” She looked at Egon, “Eggy made me see that.”
I didn’t want to be around any of them. Egon gave me a look of understanding but said, “she’s your best bet for getting out now, otherwise you might have to wait till Monday.” I suspected he wanted Siggy to take me so we would get the chance to make up. In the end, I didn’t really care. I just wanted to get out.
It was nearly 7am by the time we were ready to leave. Without asking, Egon went to my room and got my clothes. I could hear him and Jamie talking, his voice low and angry. I wondered if he regretted hiring Jamie. Part of me hoped so. I showered in their room and changed into a sweater and jeans that Siggy had laid out. I was grateful that she hadn’t left a dress or skirt. I couldn’t deal with that.
We went out to the car and I saw Egon load another suitcase into the boot. I wondered if Siggy was leaving too.
When we got in, I said, “I appreciate the ride but I may not, probably won’t talk, understand that.”
SIggy looked straight ahead, rather than look at me. “I understand that.”
I half slept and half stared out of the window most of the way. There’s a lot of country to see in Iceland and very little human activity. We drove for nearly two hours without seeing any evidence of other humans aside the odd car. I was slipping in and out of sleep.
Around lunch time, we came to a little town, the name of which I don’t remember. It was little more than a line of houses along the road. There was a church at one end and a large building with a petrol station at the other. We filled up at the petrol station and bought hotdogs from inside the building. I was sick of hot dogs. They reminded me of everything. Wanting to stretch our legs, we went on a little walk to the church.
Mountains loomed behind the church, making it look even smaller than it was – and it was pretty small. It was a beautiful vista but I couldn’t see it, not then. Now, everything just reminded me of everything that had happened, of Jamie. Looking inside I couldn’t believe it could fit everyone in, not even from this small town.
“I am so sorry Kelly,” Siggy started, as if being in a religious building was forcing her to confess and beg for absolution.
I should have said what I felt. That I didn’t expect anything from her. That she wasn’t our friend, that she was Jamie’s friend. For some reason, I let her off the hook. “It’s OK. I know Jamie put you on the spot.” I thought for a second about the bars and was going to thank her for trying to stop my drinking, but decided I wasn’t interested in giving her any credit.
We didn’t say anything for a while. I spent the time looking at the painting of Jesus on the wall. It was a strange Jesus, kind of like a Viking Jesus. Viking Jesus would definitely be able to take the normal Hippy Jesus we were used to in England in a fight.
As we left the church, Siggy asked me what must have been on her mind, “What are you going to do about the baby?”
I didn’t know. I was pro-choice, of course. It was only then that I started to see the gravity of that choice. Anyone who thinks it’s an easy decision needs to get stuck in one of these surrogate suits. On one hand, if you had said to me just twenty-four hours before that Jamie and I could have a kid I would have bitten your arm off, no matter what I would have to do. On the other, I now didn’t know if I could trust Jamie, and if I really knew her at all.
There was a child inside me. Was it fair to blame it for what Jamie did, the mistakes made by the company? I couldn’t put what I was feeling in words. I sat on a bench for a long while. Siggy kept looking at me, like she wanted to say something but wouldn’t. I don’t know how long I was sitting there when it came to me. Jamie had impregnated me against my will, albeit by accident. I felt violated. I probably would never be able to tell anyone that. If I went to the police and told them my wife impregnated me against my will, they would laugh in my face. I don’t know exactly when I began crying, just that Siggy was holding me as I shook.
They play music loud in Reykjavik. My vision was already going foggy when I spotted him. He was tall and Germanic looking. From the look he gave me, I could tell he was interested.
Siggy was talking to her friends and had momentarily forgotten to spy on me. I think she’d almost lost her voice begging me not to drink, begging me to not punish the baby. I returned the Germanic man's look for a second before turning back to my beer. I had seen girls do it thousands of times. I knew the trick was to not look back until he came over.
"Hey," he said to me.
"Hey," I said back. I turned away taking another swig out of my bottle, but I didn't move away.
"You American?" he said, looking me over with a smile.
"British," I replied as I looked him up and down. He was tall, good looking. It looked to me like he worked out.
We talked for a while. He was a Danish photographer who split his time between London and New York. He was in Iceland taking photos for a fashion magazine in Japan, of which I’d never heard.
He leaned in close to my ear, "I could use you," he whispered.
I laughed at his bad pickup line and raised an eyebrow.
"No," he said, "I really mean it. Don't take this the wrong way but I don't want models. I want real women who are beautiful."
I blushed, if only he knew. I looked to the left and saw Siggy coming over.
"Hey, hey," Her voice was light but her eyes suspicious. "What are you two up to?"
"This is my new friend, uh.." I patted the Danish man on the arm as I realised I didn't know her name.
"Felix," he introduced herself. He was laughing at my comical drunkenness.
"Felix wants me to be in his photo shoot," I grinned at Siggy. I was thinking about how this would get back to Jamie. I enjoyed knowing the pain that it would cause her. I would have preferred to be the 'man' in this situation, and Felix a hot girl, but still, it would be a win for me to make her jealous.
"Can I talk to my friend?" Siggy asked Felix. She pulled me away before I had chance to object.
"Hey, you’re pulling it all out of shape," I whined as she grabbed me by the t-shirt.
“Kelly,” she said, putting her hands on my shoulders. “I know you’re cross, you should be.” I was having trouble focusing on her. I hadn’t had a lot to drink, only three beers but I was tired, mentally and physically. “But you need to be careful,” she said. “For you. And the baby.” Once I started speaking to her, she seemed unnecessarily focused on the baby.
“Thanks for the advice,” I grunted. I didn't feel like being careful. There didn't seem to be anything for me about which I needed to be careful. I had no girlfriend, no permanent place to live and no job, at least for the next three months. “You’re right,” I sneered. “I could wake up pregnant.” The alcohol had given me confidence. Beer muscles, an American friend called it.
“Please,” she said, tears in her eyes. “Remember….” And her voice trailed off, which sobered me up quite a bit. “I know it seems bleak,” she said quietly, her voice cracking. “Think of yourself and,” then she put her hand on my belly, “the baby.” With that, I collapsed in tears into her arms. My mind was racing. Did I want this baby, Jamie? It was all too much.
After I don’t know how long, I stopped crying and Siggy said that she was going to take me home. I asked her to take me to a hotel. I looked at the bar and my stomach flipped. The alcohol had worn off and I was nauseous.
While Siggy went for our coats, I stared at the ground. I was lost in thought when I felt something slip into the pocket of my t-shirt. I felt a shiver of pleasure as his hand brushed lightly against the breast of my bodysuit. I looked up and Felix stood over me, smiling. “Whoever he is, he’s not worth it.” Somewhere in the back of my mind, the stupid part, I felt like I should defend Jamie, but thought better of it.
“I’m serious though,” he said. “If you want out of Reyjavik and want to earn some money, call me.”
I wiped the tears from my eyes and looked more closely at him. He had a handsome, chiseled face. His pale skin was covered in freckles around her cheeks and nose. "Huh?"
"The modeling," he said, flexing his arms. They were well built and covered in tiny blond hairs. His shoulders were broad and stretched the fabric of his black t-shirt. He smiled and then left.
"What did he want?" Siggy asked as she handed me my coat, scarf and hat.
"Just saying goodbye," I shrugged. I turned my back to Siggy taking Felix's card out of my breast pocket and slipping it into the back pocket of my jeans. I’m not sure why I was so secretive. Just the thought of having something of my own to hide made me feel a little better. A little more in control.
Siggy had to half carry me home through the lightly falling snow. It looked magical watching the snowflakes fall in front of the street lighting. I suspect I enjoyed it far more than Siggy did. She kept looking like she wanted to say something, but wouldn’t. I was so curious that I almost asked her what she was thinking, but then realised I might not want the answer. I wasn’t ready for a defense of Jamie or a lecture, so I said nothing. I just thought about the baby inside me. I still didn’t understand how this happened, how it could happen.
We stopped at the hotdog stand near the sea front, the one Bill Clinton was supposed to have eaten at during his visit. Siggy said she wanted to get some food inside me. I wanted anything but hot dogs, but that was our only option. I choked one down and stared at the water. It was dark and foreboding.
I watched the snow falling on the surface of the waves. Each snowflake quickly melted into the icy water, disappearing into the black depths. I thought of the fish underneath the water and how little I knew of them and how little they knew of me. For some reason, this thought was comforting to me.
The new day brought with it one hell of a hangover. I stood in front of the little mirror staring at the bags under my eyes. It seemed strange to see how my fake face had been affected by the real damage I’d done to my body.
I felt the skin, the soft lips, it all seemed so real. Eventually I pulled up my t-shirt and rubbed my belly. It was still flat as a pancake. I knew it wouldn’t be long before that changed.
After sticking my head under the tap and gulping down cold water, I made my way to the kitchen. It took me an age to get the coffee machine going. At first I forgot to put the water in. I knew it was worth it when I lifted the mug to my mouth, sipping the strong brew. Finally, I resolved to return to the bedroom and google abortions for body suits. I felt guilty doing it but, for my own sanity, I needed to keep my options open. I padded slowly back to the room. SIggy’s room was silent which was good. I finally had a chance to get my head straight without any distractions.
I opened up my laptop and opened Google, but I couldn’t do it. Not yet, not with a hangover. Whatever happened, this was a serious decision and needed a clear head, so I decided to distract myself by reading e-mails. I hadn’t checked it since we toured the island with Dagur and Kristjan, which felt like a lifetime ago. Most were e-mails from former work colleagues, which only made me feel more alone. It took me nearly five minutes before I spotted it. “From Rich Dale, re your submission.”
At first I was confused, as I hadn’t submitted anything in ages. A few years before, I had sent my ‘great’ novel to a few publishers and agents. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, ever since I was a kid writing fan fiction and crazy sci-fi stories. I had recently found some of the stories and cringed, thinking ‘well, it’s good that I found something else to do.’ After about a year of getting turned down, I’d given up. Most of the rejection emails were depressingly similar, clearly standard replies. I had continued to write, but only for my own pleasure.
Sipping the coffee, I opened the email. “Dear Ms. Kelly Rogerson,” This confused me, Rogerson was Jamie’s maiden name. “Thank you for submitting your manuscript to us,” it said. Had I sent another one out and then forgotten about it? I thought, ignoring the name on the e-mail to me. “We would be pleased to discuss the possibility of representing you and your novel at the earliest convenience.” I read through it several times, looking to see whether there was an e-mail attached from ‘me,’ but there wasn’t. I checked my sent folder to see if there was any correspondence with this Rich Dale and found none. Then I searched for the name of the literary agency ‘Dale & Associates’ and found two e-mails, the first dated two months ago, right around when I lost my job. I opened it and saw the manuscript for a silly story, “Danelaw,” I’d written for fun earlier that year. I’d never sent it off anywhere. It was just some dumb Scandi-crime-style nonsense, set in the North of England. I’d written it to amuse myself.
The second email was a reply, probably from Rich’s secretary or an intern acknowledging the receipt of the first. It must have been Jamie who sent it. There was no one else with access to my e-mail. I sat there silently looking at the screen reading and re-reading the email.
I gathered my thoughts and started on a reply, which I found impossible. It was ironic, given my job and why I was responding. My first response was a rambling mess. It tried to explain that I was a man, writing under a woman’s name and explaining why I would appear to be a woman. On second read, I realised that I sounded like a lunatic and that this guaranteed that they would reject it. Instead, I sent the following e-mail; it was short and to the point:
Dear Mr. Dale,
Thank you so much for reading my manuscript. I would be glad to meet with you to discuss representation. I am currently away visiting friends in Iceland but I will be back in London from the end of the week. Is there a good time for us to meet next week?
After rereading it a couple of times to make doubly sure I was doing the right thing I hit send. I couldn’t decide how I felt. On the one hand, I was grateful that Jamie had submitted it, since I had long since given up hope. On the other hand, she went into my e-mail without asking me, without telling me. That and I couldn’t figure out why she had made me female, had given me her maiden name.
I finished my coffee and got into the shower. I felt the water hit my body, this body. It felt good and I stopped thinking about it, until I saw my reflection in the mirror. Then I decided that I was going to go back to London. I had time to decide about Jamie and the baby. I needed to meet with this agent.
I sat back down and heard a knock on the door. I opened it and Siggy stood there, with no makeup on.
“How are you feeling?” she asked tentatively.
“Fine,” I said. I started to say something about the agent but decided not to. I knew she meant well but I didn’t trust her not to say something to Jamie, sorry to James. And I didn’t want him to know.
She sat on the bed. “I know you are upset with James but…,” she said.
I held up my hand. “Siggy, no. Not today. I know you’re concerned but I don’t, I can’t, I won’t.” I smiled. “I promise no drinking but I don’t want to hear his name today, OK?”
She looked at me gravely and said, “This is not about him. I am very upset with him too. I just want you to think about your baby.”
I debated what to say next, not trusting her. I decided to test her, figuring what I said next would get back to Jamie. “I don’t know what I am doing about this baby,” putting the emphasis on ‘this.’
She looked shocked, which surprised me. “Please, Kelly. It is your choice, but think,” she said, starting to tear up.
I remembered the books on her shelves and felt awful. Whatever she knew, I assumed that she and Egon were in the same place we were. I started to tear up. “I’m sorry, Siggy,” I said, putting my arm around her. “I don’t know what I am going to do, but I will be careful, I promise,” and I meant it.
“Thank you,” she said. She started to say something and stopped.
“I think I am going to go away for a while,” I said. “I can’t be here.”
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know,” I lied. I hated lying to her, she had tried to help and protect me, but she was Jamie’s friend, her spy. “I just know I don’t want to be here. Not now.” I reached over to hug her. “I’ll make my way to the airport. Thank you for taking me here.”
She dried her eyes. “I will drive you there. I owe you that much.”
I packed up my bag and took it to her car. We didn’t talk on the short ride. I had a lot that I wanted to say but couldn’t say any of it and Siggy looked like she felt the same way. We got to the airport and I went to take my bag out of the boot. Siggy came out and took her bag out.
She looked sad, “These are some clothes for you. Some of them will fit you now. The rest will fit you if you decide…” and her voice cracked. “At least for the next couple of months.”
I looked into her eyes and saw pain. I realised what the books were. I went to say something and she put her fingers to my lips. “No, Kelly. Don’t. Just please call me, text me when you get to where you’re going. You don’t have to tell me where, I know you won’t, just please let me know you’re safe. And please stay safe. Again, I am sorry.”
I hugged her. It was strange, her being taller than me. My voice cracked as I said, “I will. Sorry you had to be in the middle.” And I was. She didn’t put herself there, Jamie did.
As she pulled away, I went to the counter and bought a ticket to London for a ridiculous price. I needed to get away.
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