A Walk Around Town
by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson
I can’t sleep a wink, so I stand up and decide to have a walk around town.
It’s a small island, so the town is quite small. Population varies between 4200-4800. It used to be over 5000 before the volcano decided to erupt out on that field there, burying a portion of it.
A co-worker of mine says his father lived nearby. He was renovating his house at the time. Was just installing some ovens, these heavy cast-iron things, with great difficulty. He had just finished placing the last one, breathing a huge sigh of relief when he took a look out the window and saw that huge fire erupt from the ground not far away at all.
Some curses were told.
It’s still and overcast. It’s always overcast, even foggy. It rained some today, and the streets are still wet and shiny. Not a creature around, none to be expected at 4:00 in the morning. So I walk on, just enjoying the echo and the general ambience.
The houses in my part of town are rather old. The houses all over are rather old actually. Keeps them from being haunted, I suppose. The oldest house is more than 200 years old, but the oldest haunted house is only about 70 years old. That I am expressly told.
We do wonder about my parents’ house though. That is a rather large building of wood, three storeys high, not counting the basement, and looms over at the end of a short but steep street named after the house.
I don’t bother with the name, it is unpronounceable, just like the island’s. And Eyjafjallajökull.
Anyway, no matter how many people are around, one never feels quite alone. There is, in particular, always someone upstairs. Me, I blame the cat.
Near the new lava a friend of mine lived in a house he claimed was haunted. He said he met the ghost in person briefly. The house in question dates back to 1970-75, I think.
By the main street, just across the road from the supermarket and one of the fuel station/shops, there’s a house on three storeys. One level for each apartment. A coworker of mine lived on the top level. Until he hanged himself.
The story goes that the one before him did so, too. I was house-hunting at the time, and the real-estate agent asked me if that bothered me.
“Not really,” said I. The location was a bit of a bother: by the main street.
But crossing the road, one gets to the harbor. Here are fish painted on the road, and on the harbor there are a lot of those fish paintings. In many colours. Can’t tell in the dark, but there are colours.
There are also some random hills and a large raised platform with three fishtanks in it, each about large enough to contain a Chevy Suburban.
In there can be found some regular fish. Some flatfish. Some crabs, maybe. Just after they installed that thing, some kid went and killed all the fish with a shovel. He did this over the course of a few days. Maimed some, killed most. He also got out the crabs and crushed them. Never did tell why he did this.
They caught him after he set fire to a truck that was parked by a garage near by. Almost set the entire block on fire.
The town has a history with fire. Not just volcanoes destroying much of it. One of the fisheries went up in flames about 12 years ago. Which is why all the machinery in it are modern. That was probably electric. The liver-rendering plant more mysteriously caught fire just a few years ago. Didn’t rebuild that. The old pharmacy and the post office almost went up in flames just last year.
I was just walking around after the fireworks on New Year’s, casually enjoying my manyeth beer of the evening, when I spotted that strangely placed campfire behind the pharmacy. Wondered who could be doing that. So I went to have a look and found only a huge pile of paper, probably leaflets and newspapers, on fire. It was melting the garbage cans and the post-office van.
For some reason I figured the best course of action was to call the fire department. That spectacle was the most fun I had that day.
But we are at the seaside, aren’t we? The post office isn’t quite there. One trails off when not getting any sleep.
The harbor has already been mentioned. It was recently renovated on a grand scale. There is somewhat less space in the harbor for boats afterwards. But there are fewer boats.
Some years ago, not sure, maybe as many as 20, a girl was lost somewhere in the area one weekend. She’d been drinking into her meds again. They found her a month later, floating in the harbor. That was a huge mystery while it lasted.
Grandmother once told me a funny story about a body they found floating in the harbor when she was young. It was completely white, and when they prodded it with a stick, it burst open, the skin sort of unravelling, and all the innards flowed out. It didn’t come out in one piece at all.
I could spend some time telling you about dead bodies floating around in the ocean, but I’m not gonna.
If we walk past the ferry and up toward the town again, you can elect to travel a dark alley full of garages. I always do. You come out the other end on a lot where they keep boats. The place smells of pizza. Where you’d drive out of the lot is directly in front of where that kid set fire to the truck. Just across the road. And a couple stones throws away is the site of the old liver plant.
One walks there, past one of the better restaurants in town.
That’s still the main street. Not a lot of people live by it. It is mostly industrial buildings, garages and fisheries. And the grocery shop and that gas-station.
At the end of the street there is the cliff where people go to enjoy swinging on a rope, climbing about, annoying the seagulls and whatnot. Right under the cliffs, not far away is another gas-station and shop. Or rather a diner. And a good one at that. Situated at the scenic industrial harbor, right beside the cement plant and a warehouse.
They used to store dynamite in a small concrete bunker near by. The bunker got crushed by a large boulder in the year 2000 earthquake. They had to relocate the dynamite.
Speaking of the cement plant: it covers a large area under the cliffs, and one has to walk across the whole site to get to the swinging rope. The buldings are all by the street, there being no room for them elsewhere. One is dug down and has a parking lot in front of it. It is an ugly, dilapidated garage with metal doors; the lot in front is free, open to the north, but a low wall to the south.
The lot itself is usually filled with assorted cement-related junk. But when that is away, you can still see in the wall the outlines of a Peugeot 307. You can see it had 4 doors. You can see it had low profile rims. And yes, you can see it was definitely an early 2000 model Peugeot 307.
The story goes: there was this girl who liked to drive her parents’ car really, really fast. One night, she was thundering along the pier, likely flooring it out. It was a 1400 engine.
She was racing some guys who weren’t really racing her except in her own mind, when they did see her come flying past, somehow bouncing or skipping across the road, skidding sideways into that wall, driver’s side in. She lived. Her friend died. That is a horror story not to be recounted here.
I see her around from time to time. Limping about. Some people did go to great lengths to rub her imprint off the wall. It was clear as day back then, less so now, but those rims still show very well, and the rest are noticeable if you look.
Going up from there, you go past more fish plant and garages. Everything within 500 yards of the harbor is industrial area. Then you come to the large apartment block, and from then on it is all residential.
If one follows the road, one walks past the football fields, then the golf course. The golf course is in the valley, where they have the festival. The one where everybody gets drunk and rolls around in the rain.
Just beyond the side where the bonfire is held, there is a little slit into the ocean, where everything that gets dropped in gets sucked out and disappears. They used to throw horses down there, for some reason. Me, I’d have eaten them, but no, the past didn’t work that way. Got surplus horses, you drop them in the sea.
A well-known man in town is said to have dropped his wife down there once. She did disappear, and the dogs did sniff her trail to the little crevice, but not back.
I once did climb the hill up the end of the valley with a dog. Once up, the dog got scared and refused to go down again. That was a bit difficult to handle.
It is a fun place to climb, as the top is interesting, and the view is great on a clear day. I have gone there in storm, and while entertaining, not something one wants to repeat. One might disappear.
Walking along the golf course one encounters the old lava in all its glory. The golf course itself is on the old lava, with rocks sticking up from the soil here and there. There is also a historic cave, rather close to the road, where some people tried to hide from pirates once.
They got foiled by this one guy who was claustrophobic and scared of the dark. People didn’t have it in them to just clock the guy and drag him in. No. But then, those were the same people who couldn’t be bothered to fight off a few pirates.
The old lava is criss-crossed with old walls, built up with stone. One rarely ventures there.
There is a straight road from it, between the outermost suburb and the other most recent houses on the island, that ends by the old folks’ apartments. They call it the racetrack. That is not quite a direct translation “Spyrnubrautin” would be more like “quarter-mile track.”
Since it is the longest straight road on the island, of course people used it to race. So authorities put a speedbump in the middle of it.
I used to drive really fast over it, to see if I could jump. Never happened. The suspension seems to flatten it at speed in any car. The faster I went, the less I felt it. So naturally I always drive really fast over it.
Legend has it that once upon a time, before they put the bump there, a man raced it on a bike. He got to roughly where the small mound is, when he fell off and slid on his ass all the way to the old folks’ homes. First he left a black stripe, then it became red, then finally brown.
Turning left from the racetrack there is an amusingly curvy road leading to the wholesale warehouse. Turning right, there are two more highly entertaining speed bumps. Those have been successfully jumped.
Just after I got my licence I drove over one at some great speed, and the car came down rather hard on the other side.
It helped that some genius had removed the contact rubbers that were supposed to be on the car in such an event, so there was some metal-to-metal action. I am pretty sure the car was a little banana-like afterwards.
A friend of mine was going the other way some years earlier, in a Malibu, going much faster, completely ignoring the bumps. The first one is nothing. The latter one got him airborne. Right in front of an old lady going the other way.
He landed right in front of her, panicked, and just managed to turn out of her way, which happened to be off-road. She was so out of it afterwards, that when she called it in, she had the make, model and colour of the car wrong.
But let us walk on. Past the kindergarten, past the hill, where lives Jói á hólnum. There are some rather interesting buildings in the area. Built before it became a crime to build interesting buildings. The one where Súlli lived is most unusual. It has a sort of witch’s hat roof on it, but otherwise the house defies description.
Súlli was a janitor at school. He was the first guy to go into the volcano after it stopped erupting. The reason he went into the crater was expressly to see if the volcano was erupting.
Past all that there is the gravel field. A football field of gravel, with a running-path around it. Looming over it is the “palace,” a place for parties and concerts, and the High School. Which looks like what it is.
Before the palace was built, there was just this large water tank. We used to like throwing stuff from off it. Just random things we found at the dumps: a microwave oven, a lawnmover, some bicycles, and most famously, that huge cardboard spaceship.
It can be great fun to drive around the gravel field. But it gets old after a couple circles. Then one goes driving on the new lava, which usually needs to stop once the exhaust falls off, or the tires burst.
Walking from there, there’s the church, the school, some residential housing...
And I’m back. And still not sleepy.
This day’s gonna be awful..
Copyright © 2015 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson