For the fifth year in a row, we partnered with Iceland Travel to run a competition to win a spot at the Iceland Writers Retreat. This year’s theme was “Equality” and we received over 400 submissions from the around the world. Today we are sharing the second place story, which is “Volcanoes” from Petronella Wagner of South Africa.
The winner of the competition is Giacomo Roessler from Germany, with his story “Ferðin” which you can read here. Third place was awarded to Alyson Hilbourne in the United Kingdom, with “On Reynisfjara Beach” which we will post in the coming days.
There are still some spaces available to attend the Iceland Writers Retreat. Click here to sign up.
My fingers hover over the deserted site where a breast used to be. Its mourning twin still towers on the right side of my body. Only ghosts now dwell beside it: a husband’s hand, a baby’s mouth — hungry. I put on my new bra, superficially padded on the left. For the appearance of equality.
After months, I have not yet gained my equilibrium.
“What would you like in its place? Name anything, and I’ll give it to you!” Eric at my bedside after the operation. His smile too wide, his voice too high. In his eyes, flickers of empathy. For him or for me?
“What would I like in exchange for my breast!?” I immediately regretted the sharpness, my voice still ugly after the near-dead sleep.
Last night I dreamed of a volcano erupting, lava burning deep into my body. It was on top of me. No, it was me: my breast, discharging its treacherous innards. Killing me.
But it did not kill me.
“A volcano for a volcano,” I tell Eric at breakfast.
His brow wrinkles into a question.
“Your offer in the hospital — I want to climb a volcano,” I explain.
An explosion of relief on his face. I understand: It is my first ascending step from the shadowy place inside me he fears so much.
“Where?” he asks.
“Iceland.” Where darkness allows for the appearance of mysterious lights.
Eric places a brochure in front of me. “Heya-what-what-cool, Snay-something-cool, Katla, Askja… Take your pick! There are many volcanoes in Iceland, but few of them have pronounceable names.”
“Eyjafjallajokull, Snæfellsjökull,” I read, sounding each syllable like a six-year-old. Laughter comes from me. A big, whole laugh from a timid half-woman. The familiarity of the noise is strange — somehow it remained preserved from the time before.
The hike is strenuous, and I am still unfit. I force my body: right, left, right, left. Good side, ugly side, good side, ugly side.
At the top: unimaginable perspectives, the freshest air, renewed energy. Eric holds me — his hard, flat right side pressed against my hard, flat left side. Nothing left to separate him from my heart.
“A volcano for a volcano,” he whispers. After a while: “Did you know that volcanic eruptions push material to the surface that can form new islands?”
I nod. “Creation from destruction. It’s nature’s justice.”
Small, loose rocks make for a slippery descent, but with Eric’s help, I keep my balance. Right, left, right, left. One side reminds of what came prior; the other made way for this moment where I am alive. Loved. On a volcano.
Right, left, right, left. Past, present, past, present.
Maybe I could learn to love both.
I gently touch the deserted site on my body where there once was an active volcano. Somewhere else, virgin land has materialised. I put on my bra, superficially padded on the left. For equality.