Often a strange story begins with a strange awakening. My story begins with a strange nap. It was a nap that took me half way around the world, not within my dreams, I truly lived this adventure. I doubt that my imagination could even conjure up a dream as otherworldly as my adventures have been. My odyssey will be but a footnote in history, in fine print it will be written just after the death of Christ and before Ragnarok, on this day Leif Erikson fell asleep and changed the world! Aye, changed the world and all it took was a sickening amount of pain.
I regret nothing, it was a pleasant snooze.
I remember the warm afternoon well, warm for an Icelandic morning anyway. I woke up late and my mother scolded me for not doing my chores on time. The first of these was to kill a chicken for dinner, which I had left too late – the sun was already setting. By my villages tradition, we kill livestock in the morning, the idea being we send the animal’s spirit to rise with the early sun.
I approached my mother cautiously while she was washing clothes in a basin.
“Ah, so you did not die in your sleep as I thought.”
“No Mother, I’m alive and well.”
“Alive and well but hungry, you haven’t prepared a chicken.”
“I was thinking…” I said, “Perhaps I can still kill us a chicken.”
She continued washing, “You know the rules.”
“I was thinking I could kill one and then we invite his soul to stay the night, just till tomorrow morning.”
That made her laugh, “You’re a funny boy Leif.”
“Thank you, you do say that often.”
“It’s a shame you’re only funny when you’re trying to get out of work.”
“I’m sorry, you do say that often.”
She managed to keep a straight face, “Go grab your Father’s fishing rod and be back before dark.”
I gave in.
My father’s shed always felt ominous. As a small child, it felt like I was walking into the jaws of an iron monster, sharp and rusted farming tools jutted out of the walls like ruined teeth. At the very back was his harpoon, unused rusted as the rest of the farming equipment. He was still at sea at that time, hunting a very different beast to a whale. As I walked past it, I felt somehow ashamed by its disuse. I thought of me and my two brothers playing with our pretend harpoons, one would be the whale spurting water of our mouths while the others chased him down with sticks. None of are whalers now, least of all me I thought as I plucked my mighty weapon from its scabbard- a crooked fishing rod. Fishermen may lie about the size of fish they catch to their wives, but that is only because they are jealous of the whaling men who can scarcely measure the size of their catch with three arms lengths. If I could travel back to that moment I would have dropped the rod and ran away with the harpoon to find some wayward vessel and live out my dreams…of course instead I did what my mother told me.
“Take the mule,” my mother cried as she hung up clothes on the washing line. I whistled for for him and off we went. The mule trotted ahead, he knew the way well. He didn’t have a name, my father didn’t want us to get attached in case we had to eat him when times were bad. He was over thirty years old and still didn’t he have a name. We wandered through weed ridden farmland, that turned into rolling hills, which then became crueller in character until they were craggy mountains – where nothing grows but a healthy respect for mother nature. Up and up we climbed, out of the valley which our house sat in. The mule was fitter than me despite his age and wasn’t slowed by the terrain. Maybe he thought that if we didn’t catch any fish by nightfall that we would eat him. He looked back suspiciously as if reading my mind.
“Don’t worry I would never eat a dear a friend,” I reassured him, “Especially not one as old and chewy as you.” With a snort he trotted away. We reached the summit of our climb and I took a rest.
Though I had no idea at the time, those few moments I spent on the mountain top would be a final farewell to my childhood. Looking down to my house I could just barely see a human figure in our garden, my mother. She was surrounded by radiant white sheets that blew in the wind, they lit up her blonde hair which humbly danced with all the trees and bushes around despite outshining them all. What a beautiful scene, she could have been Venus herself in that moment.
I reminisced about the clothesline. That was the same clothesline I used to swing back and forth on, I used to love that. I remember many a summer day spent being pushed back and forth by my brothers. Too big and too old for that now. Funny, I guess one day I simply let go of that clothesline and never grabbed hold of it again. The exact moment of that final farewell is lost in a vague blur.
On the contrary, the final farewell with my mother is a very exact moment – it was that very moment on the mountain top. She finished hanging the washing, walked inside, and I would never see her again. I question whether on some level I knew this was goodbye because all the while I wanted to shout and wave like a child – but I resisted and remained silent. I will always be grateful to myself for this, it would have tarnished a comforting memory which I have replayed many times in the ceaseless theatre within my skull. If you were to pry open the red curtains that cover my brain, I doubt you could dissect this memory from me without tearing out the whole stage.
The mule whinnied to get a move on and with a yawn I passed over onto the other side.