By Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir
Translated from Icelandic by Sarah Bowen
Sveinn hung the last ones out to dry: the hooks pierced the back of the necks. Fortunately the holes would be hidden by silky soft hair once the heads were added. He placed a ruler between the ankles: it was important that they dried slightly apart, otherwise they might handle awkwardly, like apprehensive virgins. And there they hung, all four of them, all body type number 4. He straightened himself up, eased the small of his back with a damp, aching hand and admired their colouring: golden brown, as though they had wandered naked all summer in the sunshine shielded only by a fine haze of cloud. The colour mix had worked perfectly and he made a mental note to write down the proportions before the numbers faded from memory.
He didn’t consider himself an artist, although others sometimes gave him that dubious accolade. He was a craftsman, a master craftsman in his field, yet he didn’t puff himself up over it — for what is self-satisfaction other than the flip side of stagnation? He would not be guilty of either. His job was to craft as skilfully as he could, to create an illusion of human consciousness — shining out of blue or hazel eyes, floating behind half-closed red lips, framed in blonde, raven-black or auburn curls — and to let his beautiful girls go into the world, in the hope that they would bring their owners joy.
He took off his rubber apron and hung it on a nail by the door, washed his hands in the cubby-hole off the drying room and put his watch back on. When he saw that it was well after eight he realized his stomach was rumbling, his jaw was stiff and his temples were throbbing unbearably. His finger joints were on fire and pain ricocheted round his wrists and elbows. It was the same every time — when his concentration relaxed his body began to protest.
Leaning heavily against the door frame, he tried to recall what was in the fridge. It would have been quicker to wander into the kitchen, open the fridge and scan the contents, but that was beyond him right then — he needed to let the tiredness ebb away before he did anything, but at the same time he knew he couldn’t unwind until he had some food inside him.
There were a couple of restaurants nearby, but he wasn’t ready to face people after working so many days on end. He could get himself flatbread and coffee, but it went against the grain to let three hundred grams of minced beef go to waste.
No, there was only one thing for it now: to shift himself from the door frame. Although he longed for nothing more than to take it with him into the kitchen and to lean against it while the onions and mince browned in the pan. One foot in front of the other, it could be done. A pleasant problem compared to an empty fridge and having to go out to the shops. Or being broke and needing to borrow cash to go shopping, which had sometimes been the case when he was a student and before the doll-making really got going.
Four medium-sized potatoes in a saucepan; just enough water to cover them. He couldn’t help giving a wry smile when he needed both hands to carry the pan from the sink to the stove. If the pain in his joints was anything to go by these working bouts really didn’t agree with his body. And the little finger on his right hand had been numb since early January, thanks to a trapped nerve in his arm.
Two red onions, one beginning to sprout. He took one of the heavy knives from the second drawer down and used the point to draw back the kitchen curtains and let in the gleaming-white May sun. At nine in the evening the light was still bright and dazzled him for a few seconds, so he wasn’t sure whether there really was a car in the drive or whether it was a trick of the light — a green smudge which danced before his eyes as they grew accustomed to the brightness. He would put butter and salt on the potatoes. The very thought of butter jolted his stomach like a hearty dig in the ribs. Yes, it was a car, a bright-green Renault, and a woman with long, wavy blonde hair was getting out. He automatically thought, Honey-Golden Susie, but her hair was perhaps the only doll-like thing about her.
What was she doing there?
Whatever it was, she would have to wait while he ate. The mince was in the pan, the pan on the hob. He tasted some of the raw meat — it got his stomach juices going. He concentrated on the feeling of hunger, which left him little attention to give to the woman hunched over the open boot of the car. Perhaps she wanted to sell him something. Or talk to him about Jesus. He would soon shut the door in her face.