Our car slides, again. The snow has become ice. I turn to Chris, and his hands clenched on the wheel for hours now. Lisa’s shrunk down low in the back seat, her scarf wound around her eyes. Icelandic ponies frolic along the woollen fringe. Our eagerness to see them in the flesh on our six hour drive north began to be replaced with anxiety when gale force winds howled out of a darkening sky just outside Reykjavik.
When Iceland turns on you, it happens fast.
We held onto the door handles, aghast, as our car shook from side to side. Police waved us past paramedics on the Ring Road, where the wind had overturned a boat on a trailer and sent it smashing into an oncoming car. All conversation in our car stopped. Lisa had reached for her scarf when the road began to trace the high edge of a fjord, tumbling down to the Greenland Sea.
Five hours later we’re still driving, and still tense. When we slide on the ice, Chris quickly corrects it. Lisa gasps. The snow gathers force and envelopes our car. The view instantly disappears and we are back in a cloud, nothing but white outside our windows.
It’s not a good day for a drive.
From my first visit ten years ago, Iceland has spellbound me. I love the cold, the mellifluous language, and the wild, white and wonderful landscape. On another visit I lived for a month in a tiny fishing village up near the Arctic Circle. We’re headed there now; partly pilgrimage, partly for research for my novel set there, but also to show my beloveds that my words do not, for once, hold the tinge of hyperbole and exaggeration.
You don’t need to exaggerate in Iceland, believe me.
But this land is treacherous beyond belief. The GPS has led us away from my planned route, up into the mountains where the roads have not been ploughed and where, as my demons whisper, no-one will find us. I keep reaching for the bottle of vodka we bought duty free and filling the cap with liquid courage, passing it back and forth to Lisa.
Chris speaks, low and curt.
I look at his profile and see the clenched jaw, the narrowed gaze always on the white ahead of us. The hard liquor unavailable to him, he turns instead to his own source of comfort: music.
I scroll down his phone. And I choose unwisely. As soon as I hear Morrissey croon ‘Mother, I can feel the soil falling over my head’, I realise my mistake. This is not the time for maudlin pessimism. With superlative lack of accuracy, I then opt for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. When we hear him growl ‘I am not afraid to die’ as the wind rattles our car, I can almost feel us all wince. I have very little knowledge of bubble gum pop or soothing classical, anything to ease us out of this. My musical loves seem more at home in the darkness and depth: and that is not what this car needs. Maybe one should always have a backup copy of Karma Chameleo