Winner of the 2019 O:JA&L Flash Discourse Prize
Beneath the Falls
We are nineteen, college sophomores. It’s spring break and my boots are frozen. Minutes earlier on a beach near Vik, I had skirted basalt cliffs and found several men in a shallow cave, talking around a fire. They said hello but didn’t warn me. As I crunched along black sand, lava fingers reaching from the sea in the distance, a wave swelled and broke. Water surged fast against the cliffs and swallowed my feet to the ankles.
Back on the tour bus, I try to laugh about it, as my salt-stained laces stiffen. It’s March in Iceland, harshly beautiful, snow ghosts swirling on the road as we head to Skógafoss. In white-blanketed fields, small shaggy horses huddle for warmth.
“Here, put these on,” she says, nudging me. Miraculously, she has spare socks in her bag.
“I’m fine,” I say. “I don’t need them.”
My toes ache with cold, but the idea of shedding my boots on the bus embarrasses me. I don’t want to draw attention, to admit weakness, to give in. I never do.
A middle-aged German woman turns in her seat. “You should listen to her,” she says. In her accented English I hear kindness and exasperation at the foolishness of men. I wrestle off my boots and peel down the icy socks. The relief is immediate.
According to legend, the first Viking settler at Skógar hid a chest full of treasure in the pool beneath the giant waterfall, Skógafoss. I can’t remember if the guide tells us this before we disembark. All I remember is the falls, sixty meters high, a shell of thick blue ice with a torrent of water cutting down through its middle. Rainbows hover in thrown mist. We get as close as the slippery ground and spray will let us, my feet warming in my fresh socks, both of us laughing in wonder. In the photos, we wear lopsided wool hats, big squinty smiles, flecks of water on our glasses. The falls caught between motion and stillness behind us.
This is always how it was: me, half frozen with pride and self-consciousness, and her, trying with all her energy to bring me to life. Me standing rigid as she danced to Led Zeppelin, my face crinkling with laughter, though I wouldn’t join in. Me being dragged out to a movie, out into the world, not knowing I craved the fun and company until she handed me the bag of popcorn. Me insisting we were just friends, nothing more, as we rolled and confided in bed, year after year. Me forcing her to end it. To say every hard thing I couldn’t.
In the legend, three men go after the treasure but are distracted by illusions. They finally manage to thread a rope through a ring on the chest. But as they pull, the chest drops away, vanishing into dark water. Only the ring is left. We got close. Now, for me, there is the memory of our wet faces. Photos in a drawer. A feeling like regret. More like a thawing. Like thanks.
About the writer:
Dorian Fox is a writer and freelance editor in Boston, where he teaches courses at GrubStreet, a non-profit creative writing center. His work has appeared in December Magazine, Under the Gum Tree, Gastronomica, Star 82 Review and elsewhere. Dorian Fox is the winner of the 2019 O:JA&L Flash Discourse Prize.
About the source:
Fox’s memoir references the Icelandic myth/legend “The Gold Below the Skogafoss.”