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G.G. Hamilton

Iceland

A bottle of cheap wine was passed around the table. Jack was in his Toronto apartment with his roommate, Tim, and their friend, Nat.
Tim topped off Nat’s wine glass and gave the bottle to Jack. The bottle was slippery where Tim’s hand used to be. Jack poured himself a glass while Tim and Nat talked.
“You should have taken the job,” said Tim, “You would be making good money right now. Way more than either of us,” Tim looked at Jack, “Way more than me, at least.” he sipped from his tumbler, “Plus, if you stayed in Edmonton, you could actually afford a house someday.”
“Maybe,” said Nat, “but it was so lonely. There was nobody around and there was nothing to do.”
“You would make friends,” said Tim, “And I’m sure they had stuff to do.”
“All they had was snow. Every day was cold and depressing,” Nat closed her shoulders and rubbed her hands on the sleeves of her cream coloured crewneck.
Tim leaned across the table and rubbed Nat’s arm. He fell back into his chair, laughing, “Are you ever warm enough? You could live in the Bahamas all summer and still complain that it’s too cold.”
“Really?” said Nat, “It was Edmonton in February. The average temperature was, like, negative twenty.”
“Sure, but you remember the pool party we went to last summer? When you wore that sweater?”
“Yeah. It was cold and cloudy.”
“It was at least twenty-five degrees out.”
“Screw you! I have poor circulation!”
Tim lifted his drink and laughed. Nat stared at Tim, but he didn’t notice. She faced Jack.
“How have you been, Jack?” She said, “It’s been forever since we talked. When was the last time we talked? Before I left?”
“Yeah,” said Jack, “I’ve been alright.”
“Anything interesting happen while I was gone?”
“No. Just the same stuff. Work hasn’t changed. Tim hasn’t changed.”
Tim finished his drink and slammed it on the table.
“You liar!” he said, pointing a finger at Jack, “This guy went to Europe for two weeks! By himself!”
Nat’s eyes widened, “You what?”
She looked at Tim. Tim nodded his head.
“Get out of here,” said Nat, “When was this?”
“Right in the middle of February,” said Tim, “Tell her what day it was.”
“The fourteenth,” said Jack, “Left on the fourteenth. Returned on the first.”
“You left on Valentine’s Day?” said Nat.
“He sure did!” said Tim, “This guy left for Europe, on his own, on Valentine’s Day!”
“The flight was cheap,” said Jack, “I guess people don’t like to spend their Valentine’s Day flying.”
“Where did you go?” said Nat.

Jack walked by himself on the stone sidewalk, wearing his light-grey hoodie. The air was damp, but the street was bright and loud as people around him explored Paris on their Friday night. Jack approached a restaurant that stretched to the end of the block. The restaurant had large windows and a tacky, bright yellow and red façade. There were wood benches, painted red, that went around the outside, with light-brown tables and red chairs that extended far into the sidewalk. All of the outdoor tables were empty. Except for one at the very end.
As Jack walked past, he could hear loud, muffled voices from inside. The restaurant gave off a warm smell. Jack looked through the windows and watched people huddle around the bar, drinking and laughing. He slowed his pace so he could stare at the people for longer.
At the end of the block, Jack passed the occupied, outdoor table. There were four people seated: two women and two men. They were young and all wore heavy, black coats. On the table was one plate and four drinks.
“Come on, Jack!” Said one of the women.
Jack hesitated.
“You only wish that was true!”
The table erupted into laughter and Jack kept walking. He walked into the road.
On the other side of the street there was a bar, much smaller than the restaurant, with tall, clear windows. The bar was filled with younger boys and girls enjoying games, alcohol and each other’s company. Jack couldn’t hear their voices.
Staring through the window, Jack’s eyes met that of a girl inside. She waved to Jack and beckoned him in, but Jack turned his head, pretending not to notice. He walked past the bar and turned into his hostel.
Jack was greeted by a young man working the front desk.
“Bonjour!” Said the young man.
“Bonjour,” said Jack.
“Comment s’est passé votre nuit?“
Jack paused.
“Oh, right,” the young man stepped out from behind his desk, “You speak English. I remembered you were Canadian, so I thought you spoke French.”
Jack nodded and walked to the staircase that lead to his room.
“Hey,” said the young man, “I believe a few people staying in for the night will be coming down to watch the soccer game. You’re more than welcome to join. I could introduce you to some of the other guests.”
“I’m alright. Thanks,” said Jack, “Had a long day. Feeling pretty tired.”
The young man gave Jack a smile, “Alright. Bonne nuit!”
Jack smiled back, “Bonne nuit.”
Jack went up the stairs and into his room. The room was dark. The two bunk-beds in the room were empty. His other roommates were probably still out, enjoying their night.
Jack peeled off his hoodie and black jeans and climbed into the bottom bunk of his bed. He was cold and tired.
 
Jack had left his hostel early in the morning so he could see as much of Paris as possible. It was raining when he left, but Jack was determined to explore the city, despite the weather. He visited the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, and he walked down Avenue des Champs-Elysees all the way to the Louvre. He got soaked.
Jack dried off in the Louvre. He walked through the museum for hours, ignoring the jewels and artifacts so he could see all of the paintings. Jack wanted to find a painting that jumped out at him and filled him with energy, but no such sensation occurred. All of the paintings stayed lifeless on the walls.
One of the rooms Jack walked past was overcrowded with people waiting to go inside. Jack skipped this room. He assumed the only painting inside was that of a smiling girl he had already seen.
When Jack left the Louvre, it had stopped raining. His clothes were dry, but he still felt a dampness in his bones. The sun had started to set and Jack decided to do the same.
 
Now, lying in bed, Jack felt a cold forming in his throat. His nose was red and numb. He curled his body into the blankets and rubbed his legs, trying to find warmth on this final night in Paris.

Nat was playing with her wine glass, “I think spending Valentine’s Day in Paris is the most romantic thing there is.”
“I wasn’t actually there for Valentine’s Day,” said Jack, “I got there on the fifteenth.”
“I think,” said Tim, his cheeks rosy, “spending Valentine’s Day, alone, in Paris, would just be depressing.”
There was a pause.
“Still sounds better than your Valentine’s Day,” said Nat.
            Tim gave Nat a look.
            Nat continued, “You should have heard him,” she said to Jack “he drunk called me at, like, 11:00 p.m., my time.”
            Tim finished his drink.
“It was a video call, too,” said Nat, “He said he just wanted to see me,” she laughed, “It was depressing,” she shook her wine glass, “but cute.”
“Yeah. I remember,” Tim hesitated, “At least I didn’t start crying.”
Nat’s expression changed, “I was alone in Edmonton, Alberta, you dick!”
Tim picked up the wine bottle to pour himself another drink, but the bottle was empty.
“I think we should open another bottle,” said Tim, “If you guys are cool?”
“I’m cool,” said Jack.
“Whatever,” said Nat.
Tim got up from his seat and went into the kitchen. Nat stared at her wine glass.
“How was your internship?” said Jack, “Besides cold.”
“Fine,” said Nat, “Did you go to any museums?”
“Sorry?”
“In Paris. Did you go to any museums?”
“Oh. Just the Louvre.”
“Did you see the Mona Lisa?”
“I did.”
“That must have been cool,” Nat’s stare went past Jack and into the kitchen, “Did you ever get lonely on your trip?”
“No.”
Nat took a sip of her wine, “If I was alone in somewhere foreign for that long, where I couldn’t even speak the language, I would get lonely.”
“Well, actually–“
Tim rejoined the table with a new bottle of wine. His whole face was red. He undid the screw-top lid with his thumb and poured himself a drink while standing.
“You know,” he said, “the real reason I called was to make sure you were doing okay.”
Nat ignored Tim and kept talking with Jack.
“So, you went to a bunch of countries?” she said.
“A few,” said Jack.
Tim put the wine bottle in the centre of the table and sat down. He was still holding the screw-top lid.
“Which one was your favourite?” said Nat.
“Germany,” said Jack.
“Really? Why’s that?”
“It was the most beautiful. Being there felt like I had travelled back in time. Like I was in World War Two.”
Nat lifted her eyebrows.
“Not, ‘like,’ World War Two,” said Jack, “The style of the towns was, just…old,” he grabbed the bottle of wine.
“You know,” he continued, “after World War Two, buildings and houses that were destroyed were just recreated to look the same as before the war. So they all have this old look, but they also look new. If that makes sense.”
“Sure,” said Tim.
“It sounds beautiful,” said Nat.
_
She was beautiful. Her light-brown hair travelled over the shoulders of her long over-coat. Her silver suitcase, with its wavy, indented pattern, stood beside her on its wheels. The handle was fully extended so that it was level with her hips as she stood, waiting for the train.
Jack sat on his suitcase, frequently turning away from his copy of Miseryso he could stare at the beautiful girl.
The air at Stuttgart Central Station was thick and filled with gravel and dust from construction. Platforms three and four were almost empty. There was a man sitting on a bench, facing track four, waiting for his train. Then there was the girl and Jack, both facing track three: her standing, Jack sitting.
           
Jack had noticed her earlier while sitting in State Park, reading his book and watching two men play chess with black and white pieces half the size of their bodies. He had heard the sound of wheels bouncing on concrete and turned.
Her appearance struck him. Her large coat, black pants, black boots, black gloves and black tuque only left her face exposed. Her face enchanted Jack, and he watched as she went past him, through to the other end of the park.
            Jack didn’t wait much longer before heading to the train station. When he arrived at the station, he was hungry and approached a food stand near his platform. The stand only displayed what was left of the day’s pastries, and Jack purchased the biggest one, “ein streuselschnecke,” which he pointed to, knowing he had butchered the pronunciation. Jack took a bite of the pastry: it was hard, stale, and tasted only of sugar.
            Jack put the pastry away, deciding to save it for the train. He brought his things to platform three, and there she was.
           
Now he was sitting a short distance from her, waiting for their train to arrive. After five minutes passed, a train arrived at platform four and the man sitting on the bench got on. The girl did not move to the open bench and Jack remained seated.
After twenty minutes passed, the 2294 to Frankfurt pulled into platform three. It was not Jack’s train, but it was the train for the beautiful girl. Jack watched as she stepped onto the train without him.
He put down his book and ran to her.
“Wait!” Said Jack.
The girl stopped and looked down at Jack from the train cabin.
“I really like your suitcase,” he said.
The girl gave him a confused look.
“And your outfit. I think it’s very beautiful.”
The girl still looked confused.
“Oh, right,” he said, “You can’t understand what I’m saying.” He pointed at the girl, “I think you’re very beautiful, and, for some reason, I needed to run over and tell you that,” he dropped his head, “Doesn’t matter. I probably look like a mumbling idiot.”
The train made a loud buzz. The girl laughed.
“I speak English,” she said with a German accent, “and, if it means anything, I think you look like a cute idiot. An American idiot.”
The cabin door closed.
“I’m Canadian!” Said Jack.
The girl smiled.
Jack stared through the cabin window, staring into her eyes. Their eyes locked for a second, then she zipped past him, gone forever.
            Jack’s train came ten minutes later, the 2061 to Nuremberg, and he boarded quickly. Jack found a seat and pulled out his pastry. He opened up his book and travelled to his final destination holding a book, a stale pastry, and a warm feeling in his chest.
_
Tim was playing with the screw-top lid.
“Would you like another glass of wine?” he said to Nat.
“Did you not have another bottle of white?” said Nat.
“No,” said Tim, “This is all we’ve got.”
“I’m alright then,” said Nat, “Thanks,” she looked at Jack, “How much was the flight?”
“Five hundred for the round trip,” said Jack.
“Nice! Even I might be able to afford that.”
“Still more expensive than a flight to Edmonton,” said Tim, finishing his drink, “Jack and I had talked about coming to see you in January. Flights were dirt cheap, but Jack said it would be hard to get the time off work.” There was sweat on Tim’s forehead, “Didn’t stop him from going to Europe for two weeks.”
“How dare you,” said Nat to Jack, “travel across Europe when you could have visited me in Edmonton during the coldest month of the year,” she laughed, “How dare you.”
Jack laughed, “Sorry.”
“It’s alright,” said Nat, “There’s no way I would use my vacation time and money to fly to Edmonton in the winter,” Nat rubbed a finger on the rim of her glass, “Was your flight direct?”
“To Edmonton?” Said Tim.
“What? No,” Nat looked at Jack, “Your flight to Europe.”
“No,” said Jack, “I had a lay-over in Iceland.”
“Iceland? That must have been beautiful.”
“Iceland?” said Tim, “In February? You can’t even take the winters here.”
“Oh, shut up,” said Nat. She leaned across the table to push Tim and knocked over his tumbler.
“Watch it!” said Tim. He dropped the screw-top lid and picked up his tumbler, “You’re lucky this was empty,” Tim grabbed the bottle of wine and poured himself another drink.
“I wish it was full,” said Nat.
Tim looked up. He stopped his pour and placed his thumb over the opening of the wine bottle. He gave the bottle a violent shake in Nat’s direction and a couple of red drops escaped from under his thumb and splashed onto Nat’s crewneck.
“Seriously?” said Nat.
Tim put down the bottle and stood up, “I am so sorry. I was joking. I didn’t know it would leak like that,” Tim grabbed a handful of napkins off the table and leaned towards Nat.
“Don’t,” Nat got up and walked into the washroom, closing the door behind her.
“Fuck,” said Tim.
He leaned forward and cleaned up the few drops of wine that had landed on the table. He dropped his pile of napkins and sat back down. The running faucet could be heard coming from the washroom.
Jack said nothing as Tim finished his drink. When Tim was done, he stood up, grabbed the three empty glasses off the table and brought them to the kitchen.
Jack bent over and picked up the screw-top lid, which had fallen onto the ground. He closed the wine bottle and followed Tim into the kitchen.
Tim was standing over the sink.
“Let me wash them,” said Jack.
“It’s alright,” said Tim, “I’ve got it.”
“Yeah, but–“
Tim interjected, “You know, I almost went to Edmonton by myself,” Tim turned on the kitchen sink and started washing the first glass, “The day I dropped you off at Pearson. I was thinking about what you said when I asked why you decided to leave so suddenly. You said something like, ‘there would always be excuses, but one day you had to find the courage to do the things you wanted to do in life,’” he laughed.
“You sounded like an idiot,” Tim dried the first glass and placed it clumsily in the kitchen cupboard, “but you’re never an idiot, so I thought, ‘Screw it.’ I really wanted to go to Edmonton, so I bought a ticket,” he started washing the second glass.
“They asked for my passport and I just showed them my driver’s license. Turns out, that’s enough.” Tim’s face was no longer red, “I went through security and everything. I sat in the airport for hours. They only had one flight, and it was late, like,  8:30pm.”
Jack stood in silence, staring at Tim. Tim was focused on the glass he was washing.
“But when they finally started boarding people, I didn’t get up. I just watched everybody go onto the plane. I just sat by the window. I watched the plane drive down the runway and fly away,” he placed the second glass in the cupboard.
“I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get on the plane,” Tim laughed, “All I ended up doing was getting a huge parking ticket.”
Tim turned off the kitchen sink. There was still one more glass to be washed. The faucet in the washroom couldn’t be heard anymore.
“Hey,” said Tim, “why didn’t you tell me you visited Iceland?”
“I really didn’t,” said Jack, “My lay-over was half an hour. I didn’t even leave the airport.”

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