The Sudden by Yun Wei
A crooked beehive, he calls it, tapping the hand-rolled cigarette.
We had decided to stop at a picnic area nestled in a basalt cave just off the highway on the way back to Reykjavik. The only person there is an architect from Berlin who starts to explain the structure of Harpa Concert Hall after we tell him about our tickets to tomorrow’s symphony.
The glass facade is supposed to represent basalt columns, the man from Berlin says, waving at the black rocks behind us, but I like to think of them as beehive windows, each one a different hexagon.
Jacob fills him with questions, laughs at all his jokes. When we leave to try and catch the Kerid volcanic crater before sunset, the man is still smoking.
By the time we reach the Kerid, the sun has already faded. The only light seems to come from the snow itself, threaded by rocks and spidery branches. We circle around the edge then stop at a ledge to peer down the black mirror lake. There, Jacob fumbles in his jacket and begins.
The ring. The words. His eyes piercing up at me.
Twenty-three, I finally say.
What? His arm stretches, pushes the ring higher as if I hadn’t heard him.
I was twenty-three when we met. Twenty-five when…
I have a name, a vault for that day, but can’t use it around him. I call it The Sudden when friends ask why I was moving to Connecticut, why I live in his parents’ guesthouse.
Laura? What do you think?
I don’t know. I reach out to close the velvet box.
I drive us back to the hotel without a word. He orders room service. I decide to walk through the city, leaving him in bed with pasta and a book on solar energy.
Since The Sudden, Jacob began a series of intellectual infatuations: Sumerian astronomy, Arctic explorations; for months, he tried to learn Persian to read Rumi, then German for Nietzsche. Astronomy was the one that stuck. His parents installed a telescope in the backyard and he would sit there every summer night while I lay in bed, drowning in Netflix, so easy to click, fade, click, fade.
It didn’t seem right, people would say, that Jacob was the one to grow brighter. It didn’t seem right to me either but I couldn’t stop myself from dimming.
The trip was an early Christmas present from his parents. You’ve been looking tired, his mother said, that sharpness in her eyes whenever she thought I had been too quiet at dinner, as if I were planning an escape.
As I leave the hotel, the receptionist reminds me of the hurricane warning for tomorrow. The winds are already starting, she calls after me.
The streets of Reykjavik are drizzled wet and full of wind. I tighten my scarf, pull it up to my cheeks, just leaving enough eyes to see the pointed roofs and darkened storefronts. I stop in front of a souvenir shop and try to guess which animals the fur-lined hats used to be.
Do you need any help? A gray-haired woman asks from the arm of her gray-haired husband.
Oh no, I’m fine.
Well, don’t stay out too late. The storm tomorrow morning is going to be a bad one. It’s always like this in the fall.
I understand. Thank you.
She squeezes my hand then leans on her husband to keep walking.
Strangers didn’t always approach me so easily. The Sudden must have left a distinct scent for sympathy givers. Maybe the move to Connecticut seemed a relief at the time, away from the people who stroked my hand, their voices soft and slowed-down when asking about what happened, using too many words for a straight question, pretending they weren’t shoveling for details. Or maybe it was the way Jacob’s parents packed up everything in our apartment, including all my clothes and books, including me. I had gotten laid off from work a few weeks before, and my family isn’t made of much, just an uncle and second cousin in California. Balancing the people, objects and places of Jacob’s home against mine, I was little more than a pencil sketch.
The drizzle starts to feel more like rain. I walk back to the hotel. Jacob is asleep so I lay on top of the blankets.
The next morning we get up in darkness. This time of year, the sun rises at a lazy ten o’clock, but on a day of whipping rains, it may not rise at all. We go down for breakfast. From yesterday’s silence, our words start spilling over every mundane topic at the table: the freshness of the croissants, how watery the coffee is, the smallness of the tomatoes and how they grow them in greenhouses. We talk about everything except the question he asked me and the answer I couldn’t give.
Soon we’ve exhausted the details of breakfast and he goes upstairs to read while I pour myself another cup of bad coffee. Sometime in the afternoon, the receptionist tells us that the storm is mostly over and the concert is still on tonight, and should she order us a car. I say yes and go upstairs to change. He doesn’t look at me as I peel off my jeans. He doesn’t come over to zip up my dress.
Only in the lobby of Harpa Hall, while we stare through the beehive windows, does Jacob take my hand and start tracing circles in my palm. The man from Berlin was right: every frame is a different geometry, slanted, leaning, each hexagon completing the other.
In a few hours, you’ll be able to see Cassiopeia from here¸ Jacob says.
I nod, but can’t conjure stars through the frames upon frames, multiplying steel of another life.
The usher comes over to take Jacob’s wheelchair.
No, we’re fine, I say.
I push him into the hall. The aisle stretches straight and red, the simplest of geometry.
Yun Wei received her M.F.A in Poetry from Brooklyn College and a Bachelor’s in International Relations from Georgetown University. Her writing awards include the Geneva Literary Prizes for Fiction and Poetry, the Himan Brown Poetry Fellowship and the Ray Bradbury Short Story Award. Her work has appeared in Word Riot, Five Quarterly, The Brooklyn Review, and other journals. After hopscotching through China, Montreal, and New York, she now works on global health development in Geneva, where she subsists on a daily diet of cheese, chocolate, and mulled wine.