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Sunday, March 13, 2016

Golden Circle

Place: 18th place in Creative Writing

He was clean-cut with board straight posture. At first, Seth thought the guy was military, but on closer inspection, he seemed too soft to be a soldier. Maybe he was on a Christian mission. He looked to be in his early twenties. Seth hadn’t noticed him on the crowded flight. He was directly behind him and Isanne in a long chaotic line that split, somewhat haphazardly, as the cranky passengers approached the two passport control kiosks.
Seth didn’t really feel like striking up a conversation with a stranger, but of course Isanne did, so when she and the young man started to chat, he joined in. He wanted to show that he was fine with her interacting with other men—-younger men. Seth thought the guy was a little off, himself, but what could it hurt. They’d never see him again.
“Where you guys headed?”
“Here and then on to Copenhagen. How about you?” Isanne asked.
“I’m meeting my girlfriend in Paris.”
“How exciting.” Isanne leaned in and gave the guy her full attention.
He just shrugged. “Her idea…I hope I make this connection.”
“When’s your flight,” Seth asked.
“In an hour.”
Seth looked knowingly at the large clock above the passport control booth. “Your bags are checked through, right?”
“Yeah.”
“You’ll be alright.” Seth had no idea whether he’d be alright or not. He had no particular expertise in airport logistics. He did, however, possess a knack for speaking authoritatively. “This is Seth, and I’m Isanne. Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah,” he smiled. “nice to meet you. I’m Luka.”
“Lucas?” asked Seth.
“Luka.” Isanne corrected, rolling her eyes at Seth. “That’s a really cool name.”
“I guess,” said Luka. “My mother liked that stupid eighties song. It’s about a kid being abused.” He laughed. “Not that she was planning to abuse me. She just liked the name.”
Though the line moved rapidly, Luka seemed antsy. They let him go ahead of them. When it was Luka’s turn at the passport control booth, Seth said, “Well, have fun in Paris.”
Isanne gave Luka a big, generous smile. She hadn’t smiled at Seth like that in years.

Seth couldn’t decide if the midnight sun felt like twilight or dawn. It was a bit disorienting.
“How fast are we going?” asked Isanne.
“One fifteen KPH. Around seventy. I haven’t seen a speed limit sign.”
“Slow down,” she said.
The lack of inventory at the little car rental place had led to a fortuitous upgrade. The car was small, a VW Golf, but not as small as it might have been, and it was an automatic. Isanne arranged the smallest car possible, not wanting them to look like typical, compulsively consumptive Americans. Seth hoped she’d continue the charade in the shops, but he doubted it.
“I hope Luka made his flight.” Isanne said.
“I could take you back there, if you’re so worried. Maybe you could go with him.”
“Don’t be stupid.” She smoothed her hair, “That Paris flight has left by now.”
“Smart ass. That’s not a joke you should be telling right now.”
Isanne said, “If you can’t let it go, this is all pointless.”
“I’m trying. It’s not that easy.” It didn’t seem like she was really trying to patch things up. Did she want to be able say that she gave one last try in pursuit of absolution? She kept trying to create a narrative in which Seth shared the blame. Well, she could delude herself all she wanted. He was far from perfect, but it was Isanne who’d crossed the line.
The ride to Reykjavik, lit as it was by the midnight sun, was magical to Seth. He kept waiting for Isanne to share share his enthusiasm, but she remained aloof.
“He seemed midwestern,” she said distractedly.
“Who?”
“Luka. I wonder what his girlfriend’s doing in Paris?”
“Probably sitting at an outside table at some overpriced Left Bank cafe, smoking, trying to look smart or hip or dangerous, or something else she’s not. What’s all this interest with some kid in the customs line anyway?”
“You’re such a jealous person.” She said. “I swear you’re only interested in me if you think someone else is.”
“Is that why you did it? To pique my interest?”
“What, talk to Luka?”
“No, not talk to Luka.”
“I needed somebody to be interested. I thought we agreed not to talk about it anymore?”
“Sorry.” Seth said. He fumbled with the radio.”
“Drive,” Isanne said, swatting his hand away. “I’ll do it.”  She found some mostly inoffensive electronica and adjusted the volume to keep it in the background. Seth knew better than to ask her to turn it up. Isanne liked the radio in the barely audible range and would accuse Seth of being hard or hearing if he tried to turn it up.
“Anyway, I wouldn’t call what I’m feeling about your current schoolboy obsession jealousy.” Seth arched his back and readjusted himself in the seat to allow himself a dramatic pause. “I’m embarrassed for you.” Weak. She was better at this kind of repartee than he was, and they both knew it.
“Face it. You’re jealous.”
“Don’t flatter yourself.” Seth glanced over and in the dim light of the midnight sun, could just make out Isanne’s self-satisfied expression. She was flattering herself…and he was jealous.
It was late, and there was zero traffic on the ride to Reykjavik. The dark lava flows, barely visible in the dim midnight sun, seemed as though they might engulf the road. The town was still when they entered. Isanne turned on the light and started trying to navigate. Luckily the little efficiency they rented was right next to the Icelandic National Gallery, and very near the shore of Tjörnin, a large downtown pond. They’d spotted Tjörnin after several of Isanne’s fruitless attempts at matching the street names they encountered to anything represented on the map.
The little apartment/hotel was spare but serviceable. Seth had paid an extra sixty-eight bucks to have a few things put in the fridge, so they had a midnight snack of grilled cheese sandwiches. The cheese and butter were wonderful; the bread was like 1970s style white bread, only not as good. They shared one of two tall Güll beers the innkeeper had stocked and Seth drank the second one, after Isanne refused her share. The mattress was thin and the bed too short for Seth, but after the comfort food and beer he dropped off quickly.
Seth woke before Isanne, which was typical of late. The mattress wasn’t terrible, but his back got stiff if he spent too much time in bed. Isanne was always quick to claim that ‘older’ people didn’t require as much sleep. Though only fifty-seven, Seth had to admit that he preferred rising early and catching a nap in the afternoon. It was light outside. He remembered it was always light out in summertime Iceland, but it was a good deal brighter then when they’d arrived. He quietly slid out of bed. Waking Isanne would start the day off poorly. The clock radio on the night stand read 7:30, but who knew if it was set correctly. He put on the clothes he’d worn the day before and eased out the door.
Across the street was the lot where their rental was parked. The night before, he and Isanne had determined that parking was free from 8 pm until 10 am, but Seth thought he better check again in the light of day. He trotted over to the machine that issued the parking permits and confirmed that they had been correct. The lake was only a half block away, so he figured he’d stroll along it, then come back and check on Isanne. If she wasn’t ready, he’d buy a permit.  They still had a couple of hours before having to pay the ridiculous parking fee. Luckily, the machine took Visa.
Seth tried not to worry about the permit or Isanne sleeping their vacation away. He was in Iceland, for Christ’s sake. Reykjavik was the type of vacation destination he liked, exotic, but safe…with good sanitation. Seth had never been all that interested in adventuring into the less developed world, and as he’d gotten older, he’d lost any inclination he might have once harbored. He liked the garden spots. The Cinque Terre. Paris. Hawaii. Those were adventure enough for him. Iceland and Denmark had been his idea. Isanne wanted to go to Ecuador. No, thank you. A whipworm infection or a nasty case of dengue fever wasn’t his idea of a holiday.
When he got to the end of the block, Seth could see a scattering of early risers strolling around the lake. It was cool, and he hadn’t put on a coat, but there was only the slightest breeze and the Icelandic morning felt more invigorating than uncomfortable. These locals taking their morning constitutional probably considered this early July weather balmy. Though they all had coats on. There was no pedestrian crossing at the corner, but Seth, feeling the spirit of adventure, looked both ways and trotted across. He was surprised how light the traffic was on what seemed to be a major thoroughfare—apparently these Icelanders weren’t early risers.
Seth smiled at a couple pushing a stroller along the path. They looked at him warily, and continued on their way without acknowledging his presence further. Seth had to remind himself that Europeans didn’t usually exchange pleasantries with strangers they passed on the street. Isanne would have been quick to remind him of that fact, if she’d been with him. He was glad she wasn’t. Seth noticed a young man sitting on a bench quite a ways up the path. I’ll be damned. He hurried along to get a better look. Sure as shit. It was Luka, the kid from the passport control line. He was staring out at the lake and hadn’t seen Seth. Seth waited until he was close, and was double sure it was the right guy, before he spoke.
“Luka,” he said. “Miss your flight?” The young man seemed startled. He stared wide-eyed at Seth and said nothing.
Seth pointed at himself. “From the airport. My wife and I…”
The young man shook his head and waved Seth off. “Ég skil ekki.” The young man then rose from the bench and shrugged indifferently. “Ég veit ekki.”
Seth was speechless. He’d been sure it had been the kid from the airport. Seemingly annoyed by Seth’s intrusion on his solitude, the young man turned and walk away.
“Sorry,” Seth called after him. Maybe Isanne was right. Maybe he was starting to slip. Seth continued his walk, but half-way around the lake he began to worry about his permit-less rental car, so he turned around and made his way back to the apartment.
Isanne was still sleeping when Seth got back. Jesus Christ, it was nearly nine. They’d planned to be on the road before ten. Now he’d have to pay for parking. “Shit,” he whispered. He let himself out of the room and went back to the parking lot. To the permit machine he said, “This better be enough goddamn time. I didn’t fly four thousand miles to sit in a shitty little apartment all day.” He paid for three hours.
Back in the room, he dug a paperback out of his luggage, and told himself to relax. He’d promised himself to play nice on this trip and so far he hadn’t done all that well. Though Seth thought his short temper was sort of justified after the Jimi incident. That was his name. J-I-M-I like Jimi Hendrix. He was a skinny little twenty-five year old who wore thrift shop shirts and never washed his hair.  Seth didn’t get it. He sat on the vinyl love seat and read the latest Grisham thriller while Isanne snored serenely.
“Morning.” Isanne’s sleepy, childlike intonation brought Seth out of Grisham’s courtroom, and back to the spartan room in Reykjavik. Seth was suddenly glad he’d let her sleep.
“Morning sleepyhead. Want me to make coffee?”
“God, yes. Fucking travel days are always exhausting.”
If Seth said that, she’d say he was acting like a crotchety old man. He took the three steps into the tiny kitchen, and started figuring out the coffee situation. There was a new jar of Nescafe, and he hoped that wasn’t the innkeeper’s idea of coffee, but was relieved to find a bag labeled Kaffitár Kolumbia filled with finely ground dark roast. There was an old percolator, but searching further, he found a simple cone filter set-up and an electric kettle—surely left by another tourist who, like Seth, didn’t want to mess with that percolator.
“Want eggs?”
“Let’s find some local pastries.”
It was getting late and Seth was getting anxious to go sightseeing. “Uh, okay, but we kind of need to hurry.”
“Don’t start, Grampa. It never gets dark here. Gullfoss is probably gorgeous in the midnight sun.”
“It probably closes.”
“How do you close a waterfall?”
“Access to it.”
“Well, look it up.”
“You look it up. You’re the one so fascinated with the local fare all the sudden. You don’t even like pastry.” It had never occurred to him that his age would become an issue. Twelve years hadn’t seemed like that big a difference when they decided to marry, but Isanne was obviously second-guessing her decision to have a long-term relationship with an older man.
“I do too like pastry. Not all the the time, but today…jeez, relax.”
“I read Iceland has crappy bakeries.”
“You can’t believe everything you read. Don’t be a grump.”
If he was aging prematurely, it was at least partly because of her bullshit. Pops had all his marbles right up until he checked out. He wasn’t extremely old when he died—he had a heart attack at seventy-two—but there’d been no sign of dementia. Seth’s mom was an unknown, She died of lung cancer when he was twenty. She was only fifty-one.
After Isanne purposely lingered over her coffee, they drove around until they found a bakery. Isanne was trying to direct him to one she’d looked up on her iPad, but they never found it. The neighborhood was lively and Seth found it difficult to maintain his anger. He ordered a large, by Iceland standards, coffee to wash down his surprisingly tasty vínarbrauð. Vinarbrauð is much like a danish, though this particular specimen was bready and less sweet than its American cousin—pleasantly so.
Isanne nodded toward Seth’s large coffee mug. “You sure you need that? You drank three cups back at the apartment.”
Seth could see out onto the bustling street. “I’m sure I want it.” Seth refused to bicker. “My vinarbrauð is great, how’s your…what’s that thing called?”
“I don’t like it, so I guess it doesn’t matter what it’s called.”
“Want to try mine?” Seth picked up his plate and offered his pastry.
Isanne waved him off. “The mood has passed. Ready to go?”
“No. I’d like to finish my breakfast.”
“I thought you were in a big hurry?”
“I thought you wanted to relax…take a leisurely pace?”
“Good luck doing that with you around.”
Seth took a big bite of his vinarbrauð. “This thing’s great.”
“I’m happy for you.”
“Okay. I see what kind of day this going to be.” Seth fished the car keys out of his pocket and threw them on the table. “Let’s make this the first of many separate vacations. I’ll go rent another car.”
Isanne shook her head dismissively. “Calm down. I told you not to have so much coffee. Finish up so we can go see your Golden Circle.”
Now it was his Golden Circle. As Seth reached to take back the keys, he noticed someone looking in the cafe window. Seth pointed, but before Isanne turned to look, he turned and walked away.
Who was that?”
“Luka.”
“Luka from the airport?”
“Yep. It’s the second time I’ve seen him, today.”
“What are you talking about?”
“When you were sleeping. I saw him next to the lake.”
“Why didn’t he go to Paris?”
“He wouldn’t talk to me. Just like now, he just turned and walked away. Little bastard tried to pretend he didn’t speak English.”
“How do you know it was him? You only saw him briefly.”
“He was looking right at us!”
Under her breath, she scolded, “Settle down. I told you to go easy on the coffee. You’re acting like a lunatic.” Embarrassed, she glanced furtively round the cafe, then leaned toward him and whispered, “I meant at the airport. I don’t know if I would recognize him.”
Seth pushed his cup away. “Swear to god it was him. I was starting to doubt myself this morning, but now I’m sure.”
“Why would he pretend he couldn’t speak English?”
“That’s what I’d like to know.”
Isanne shook her head. “Why didn’t you mention this earlier?”
“I told you, I was starting to doubt myself. That and I knew you’d say it was all in my imagination.”
“Is this some kind of a joke?”
“I’m not joking.” Seth pushed back from the table.
Isanne turned angry, “You’re trying to scare me. Are you punishing me for chatting with Luka?”
Predictable. Typical self-involved Isanne. Like his every action was predicated on her fucking psycho-drama. “I saw him. Believe what you want,” Seth said. “Come on. Let’s go.” The coffee had put him on edge.

The highway cut a line straight through a treeless flatland ringed by imposing and utterly barren mountains. Seth tried to talk about the scenery, but Isanne was still giving him the silent treatment. She refused to help him navigate out of Reykjavik and it had taken them thirty minutes just to find the highway. Seth knew it sounded crazy. The guy at the bakery was the same guy he saw at the lake, and it was the same guy at the airport—Luka. Maybe he was just pranking them for YouTube or something. Kids were cruel, nowadays, with all that social media shit.
Luka was the least of his worries. Let him play whatever stupid game he was playing. Seth’s marriage was coming apart. All he and Isanne ever did anymore was bicker. They were dancing to footprints painted on the floor. Same old shit, day after day. They’d promised each other they wouldn’t be that kind of couple, but here they were. Their attempt to patch things up seemed futile and sad.
Isanne picked up the cartoon map of Golden Circle route they’d taken from the Things to do in Reykjavic binder in their efficiency unit. “Thingvellir National Park is the first stop…or series of stops, looks like we drive through it.” Apparently his punishment had ended. She fished a guidebook out of her bag—no internet access for her iPad away from the apartment’s wifi. Seth got her to disable her mobile service. He’d heard the roaming charges were crazy. “There’s a lake and some geological stuff…some parliamentary building. ”
They’d discussed breaking up a month before. Like always, Isanne was aloof and mostly unrepentant. She said it was up to Seth, whether he thought he could get over the affair. Then she said something that was especially hurtful to Seth. She said there was no such thing as an amicable break-up. When a relationship was over, it was over. They’d been friends and lovers for a decade. How could that add up to nothing. Seth had gotten petty. Brought up their house. The house was his, he said, inherited from his father before they married.
“See what I mean?” she’d said.
He cared nothing about the house. He said it to hurt her. That house was the only thing she seemed to really care about. She’d remodeled and decorated to her her tastes and he’d been happy to let her. It was her house really. If they got divorce he’d let Isanne have the fucking thing. He wanted the gesture to be appreciated though. She wasn’t entitled. The house was paid for, so he’d expect her to get a second and put a healthy down payment on a condo for him. Her payments would be low. It would be more than fair. She was a real estate broker, she’d know how to work it out. He wanted to have her respect, and his own self-respect. If it had to end, he wanted to come out clean. A rush of sadness came over him. Despite it all, he couldn’t imagine life without Isanne.
“I read about the parliament, no real interest for me there,” Seth said. “When I look at old stuff, I want it to be really old. I want to see that Reykjavík 871 plus/minus 2 tomorrow when we’re hanging around town.”
“Yeah, you’ve told me.” Isanne looked out the window.
Yep. They were done. Seth didn’t want to descend into unbridled resentment. He and Isanne came into the relationship for different reasons. Seth wasn’t naïve, but he’d nurtured a fantasy that her feelings would eventually match his, and had willfully ignored all evidence to the contrary. But that was his problem. It wasn’t her duty to fulfill to his fantasies.
“I’m really sorry this didn’t work out, Isanne.”
“Oh, stop with all the drama. What do you expect after twelve years. We’re fine.”
“No, were not.”
When Isanne didn’t respond, Seth glanced over.  She was looking at him with a expression he couldn’t discern before he had to return his attention to the road. Isanne went back to reading her guide book.
Seth wanted to be civil. He kept trying to remind himself that it wasn’t anyone’s fault. Relationships cooled off sometimes. Thank god Isanne had gotten her way about not having kids.
“We drive right by the lake, and you don’t care about the parliament house, so we can make our stop at the lava flows.” Isanne said.
“It’s a tectonic plate boundary.”
“Yeah, that’s what it says.”
“We don’t have to stop.”
“I wouldn’t want to deprive you of your plate boundary,” Isanne teased.
She was trying to be friendly.
Seth’s Pops hadn’t been rich, not like technology people are rich these days, but he’d done pretty well for a mechanical engineer. His small Silicon Valley firm thrived supporting the future giants of the industry in the early eighties. Pops bought the beach house during his first wave of success and did a ton of work on it. It was a distraction for him when Seth’s mom died.
It pissed Seth off that Isanne took his financial contributions for granted, so he’d let her stew awhile about the house, but he was determined to take the high road. After the trip he’d offer his solution. A nice condo was all he needed. He’d still be well off when it was over. What difference did it make? A big fancy house wasn’t important to him, not like it was to Isanne. He’d been raised with money.
He drove into a visitor center parking lot. The sign at the entrance read Hakið. Seth had no idea if it was the name of the place or what, and he had absolutely no clue how to pronounce it. He thought the guidebook called this place Thingvellir or Þingvellir. Anyway, a trail winding along a large lava flow was visible from the parking lot and there was a wide flat valley in the distance, so he figured he must be at the right place. If not, someone at the visitor center could set them straight. Seth saw what looked like interpretive signs on a nearby overlook.
“I’m going to check out that viewing area.” There was a strong gust just as Seth started to get out and he had to force the door open against the wind.
Isanne looked over doubtfully and said, “You go ahead. I’m going to take a look in the gift shop. I’m don’t think I’m into braving that wind to look at rocks. You mind?”
“Not at all.” Seth said, holding the door to keep the wind from slamming it shut. I’ll meet you at the visitor center. I’m probably not going to stay long.”
“Take your time.” Isanne said cheerfully.
The wind was steady as Seth arrived at the catwalk-like overlook. The only other people around were a young mother with a toddler—a little girl, but they left shortly after Seth arrived. Like Isanne, mother and daughter were unwilling to suffer the unpleasant weather for the sake of the view.
The interpretive sign indicated that massive walls of fractured and fissured black basalt were known as Almannagjá Gorge. The sign said the gorge was actually one side of the rift valley and the best place in Þingvellir (Thingvellir) to see evidence of tectonic spreading That Þ thing must have a th- sound, Seth decided.
From the windy catwalk, Seth could see a series of trails and footbridges leading down to a grassy riverine valley beyond the lava flows. A line of whitewashed buildings with steeply angled roofs and another plain Icelandic church sat just on the other side of the building. Seth figured the buildings were of some historic significance. He recognized them from a picture he’d seen in Isanne’s guidebook.
Seth walked to the far end of the overlook where a paved path descended into the earth’s ragged wound. Beside the prominent lava flows, he could feel the tension. The land had not split passively, but was forced apart to make room for the new. It was as if it were giving birth.
The rift wall hadn’t provided as much of a wind break as he had hoped and the cold breeze, coupled with his dismay at Isanne’s lack of enthusiasm, left Seth less than engaged. Early in their relationship, Isanne loved going on nature hikes. After about a fifteen minutes in the gorge, he turned around.
As he trudged up to the path he noticed that several people had gathered on the overlook. As he got closer, he recognized one of them. It was Luka or the guy at the lake…and the coffee shop. The guy turned toward Seth, then abruptly flipped up the hood of his sweatshirt and walked away.
“Hey! Wait a minute!” Everyone except the young man looked toward Seth. Head down, the hooded figure turned and rushed away. Seth tried to catch up to him, but it was hopeless. He had too much ground to make up. As he entered the parking lot, he saw a small silver car speed out of it, but couldn’t tell if the guy he was chasing was the driver. Seth wasn’t sure what he was going to say to the kid. He wished he’d learned some Icelandic phrases like Isanne had suggested. He mainly wanted to convince himself that this guy just looked like Luka. Every time he tried picture the scene at the airport, he saw this guy’s face. If he got a longer look, he was sure he’d see this was a different guy.
Isanne was standing in front of the visitors center, with a clear view of the parking lot.
“Did you see him?” Seth was breathing hard from his hurried pace.
“Who?”
“The guy who looks like Luka. He just drove off.”
“No.”
“He came right past here?”
“I didn’t notice. I guess I wasn’t paying attention.” Isanne laughed. “I’m glad to hear you accept that he just looks like Luka.”
“He ran off when he saw me.”
“You were probably staring at him with your get-off-my-lawn look. Why are you breathing hard. You didn’t run after him?”
“I didn’t exactly run…”
“Oh my god. You’ve finally lost it. Your going to get arrested.” She laughed again. “It’s probably three different guys.” She shook her head slowly and rolled her eyes, but didn’t seem to take the incident too seriously. “You going to check out the visitor’s center? It’s pretty tiny.”
“I’ll skip it. Let’s get out of here.” Seth had felt so sure it was the same guy, but Isanne was great at making him doubt himself. Did he just chase some poor, random kid out of the park?
Isanne maintained her cheerful mood on the scenic hour-long drive to Geysir. Skirting the windswept lake, they passed lush summer hay farms and spotted the occasional stubby Icelandic horse. The idyllic scenery seemed to keep Isanne’s mockery and derision in check. Seth knew she found his pursuit of the kid through the park hilarious, she couldn’t wipe the smirk off her face, but he really didn’t mind being the goat. It was nice to see something approximating a smile. Isanne was loosing interest in their marriage, that was clear, but Seth wanted to believe it was possible that they’d remain friends, or at least be able to rekindle the friendship after the wounds had scabbed over.
They pulled into a fairly crowded parking lot next to a long, lodge-like building. It wasn’t nearly as windy as their previous stop and clusters of people sat at picnic tables eating sandwiches and ice cream. Judging from the line of tourists marching along the road, the actual geysers were across the street.
“I want some ice cream,” Isanne said.
“It’s freezing.”
“Come on you old grump.”
She’s right, Seth thought. I’m turning into an old grump. “Sure. Why not. We’re making good time.”
“Don’t chase any strangers.”
Seth had to laugh. “I’ll try to control myself.”
“Please do.”
Seth rather enjoyed his eleven dollar ice cream cone.
After two licks, Isanne dropped hers into the nearest trashcan. “That was a disappointment.”
“What were you expecting? We’re at a snack bar two hours from town.”
“I thought it might be from a local creamery or something.”
They joined a line of camera toting tourists headed across the two-lane highway and toward the rising steam. They gathered around the only geyser that actually seemed to geyse. After several minutes, the geyser emitted a decent sized column of water and steam. Cool, but a bit underwhelming. Seth wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting. There were several pools of scalding blue water and some folks were were climbing a small hill adjacent to the geothermal features to get a look from above.
“Shall we hike up to the top of the hill?”
“You go ahead,” Isanne said. “I’m going to people watch and wait for the geyser to erupt again.”
Seth set off up the trail. There was a wobbly wooden stair over a barbed wire fence, beyond which the trail split into several branches. The main branch led to the top of the hill, the other branches to steaming springs spilling out from the hillside. The hot springs weren’t as dramatic as the features below, but they were a nice reward for those willing to climb the small hill. After checking out a couple of the springs, Seth made his way to the crest of the hill. A middle-aged man and what looked to be his adolescent son stood in the cool breeze passing binoculars back and forth. 
“I can see Megan and Mum. Look,” the boy said, handing the older man the binoculars.
Hearing English, Seth ventured a comment. “Those are some pretty serious binoculars.”
“Da’s a birdwatcher. They’re very dear. He paid 1200 pounds.”
“Not quite that,” the father said. “but they are a relatively decent pair. Fancy a look?”
Seth scanned the crowd around the largest geyser and located Isanne standing at the outer edge of the spectators. She was still so pretty, but something was odd about with the way she was standing. She stood stiffly and unnaturally still. He was just about to hand the pleasant British gentleman his high-powered binoculars when he spotted the guy from the lake…the bakery… Hakið. The airport—that was fucking Luka and he standing behind Isanne. Seth could clearly make out his profile. He was looking away from the geyser, toward an empty field. Seth focused in on Isanne’s face. The binoculars were the best he’d ever used, by a wide margin, and he could see her face pretty clearly. She might have been speaking, but she held her hand to her mouth, so he couldn’t tell for sure. “I can see my wife,” Seth said. He tried to make like nothing was wrong. He knew he was holding the binoculars too long, but he stayed focused on Isanne and Luka until he walked off in the direction of the exit. Isanne maneuvered closer to the geyser. “Thanks guys, those are some binoculars.”
Seth’s head was swimming. Who the fuck was that guy? Obviously the meeting at the airport hadn’t been an accident, or was it? What the hell were they up too? He stomped down the hill. His face hot. He’d been married to Isanne for over a decade and he didn’t know her at all. Was she fucking that guy? He was even younger than the greasy hipster. That little son of a bitch was young enough to be her son.
Seth didn’t say anything till they got in the car,
“What’s up with you?” Isanne asked.
Her snotty tone made Seth even angrier, but he wanted to stay cool. He was tired of being the fucking rube. “Nothing’s up with me. What’s up with you?”
Isanne just shrugged.
Seth started the car and drove out to the road like nothing happened, “Did you have a nice chat with your little buddy.”
Isanne stammered slightly. “Buddy?...what are you talking about?”
Seth tramped down on the accelerator. “I met a British father and son on the top of the hill.”
“Slow down.”
He glanced over at Isanne. She was staring at him. He had her attention. He kept his foot on the gas. “The father had these bad-ass binoculars. I saw you and Luka, or whatever his real name is, doing your covert communication thing. So I’ll ask again. How was your chat? You guys got plans for later?” When he looked over again, she was looking out the window.
“Stop this, Seth. You’re scaring me.” 
“It’s over. You can cut the act.”
“What act! Slow down!
He eased off the accelerator some, but continued at a good clip.
In a panicky voice, Isanne said, “I’m starting to worry. Something’s wrong. You’re not yourself.”
“Not my usual gullible self.”
“Please Seth. Maybe you’ve had a mini-stroke or something. You’re acting erratically.”
“Yeah, yeah. You need to freshen up the routine. The call-him-crazy-or-senile-every-time he-catches-me-in-a-lie bit isn’t as convincing as it once was. Look, there’s no reason to lie…”
“I’m not lying. Your having some sort of paranoid delusion.”
“That’s a good one. As I was saying, there’s no reason to lie. I don’t care. We’re done. You do whatever you want. I don’t care.”
“I didn’t have any secret meeting, Seth. That was all in your mind. We need to get you to a doctor.”
“Yeah, alright. I don’t care. We’ll finish this fucking Golden Circle then you can drop me off at the car rental place. I’ll make my own arrangements.” He looked over again. She was still looking out of her window.
“Let’s go back, Seth.”
“He’s going to be there, right?”
“You’d better let me drive.”
Isanne begged him to stop the entire half-hour trip to Gullfoss. If Isanne ever looked at him, she did it when Seth was concentrating on the road. She just stared out the window. Seth knew he was missing something. Why meet the guy here on their vacation? They pulled into a half full parking lot at Gullfoss. There were a few low brick buildings at one of the parking area—a visitor’s center and restrooms, Seth figured—and some big maps and glossy blue information boards standing near the trailhead. The sun was low on the horizon and a rush of cool air met him as he opened the door.
“What’s going on Isanne. Who was that guy?”
“Who knows? If he’s not a complete figment of your imagination, he’s probably a Norwegian tourist with whom you’ve developed a dangerous, fantasy-driven obsession.”
Seth got out of the car. “You going to the falls?”
“No.”
“Why not? We’ve come this far.”
Isanne just stared.
“Suit yourself.” Seth followed a group of Japanese tourists that had just gotten off of a tour bus toward the falls. What the hell was Isanne up to? Why wouldn’t she come clean? He was amazed by her persistence in denying what he’d seen with his own eyes. She was really selling the you-need-help bit. How did that benefit her? Maybe she was trying to drive him crazy…no, that didn’t make sense. They couldn’t have known he was going to the lake and Seth had been the one who spotted the bakery. Luka had to be tailing them. If he were a boy toy, he’d just lay low and meet her somewhere when she could slip way.
It was obvious she despised him. The best outcome for her would be keeping most of her life intact, while getting rid of him. She wanted the life without the Seth…he had better than a million in life insurance in addition to his assets…his inheritance. She’d have no claim to that if they’d got divorced. People had killed for less. A lot less. His heart started racing. Everything began to feel unreal. She was plotting to kill him. Kill him for Pop’s house and money…for Pops status.
Seth nervously scanned his surroundings as he followed his adopted group along the trail through alternating zones of sun and mist. At vantage points along the trail Seth stopped to look at the river roar down cascades before turning sharply and pouring into a deep gorge. His gut told him that roiling gorge was where Isanne and planned to end his life. She’d even tried to get him to go at night. She’d hired the kid to kill him. She’d get everything. So clever…it was the perfect crime. She probably had no easily traceable connection to this guy and no one would look for one. Were they planning to make it look like an accident? That had to be it. That’s why she stalled. She wanted them to arrive when there were fewer people. They must have been finalizing their plan at Geysir. That Brit and his binoculars had foiled their scheme. He meant nothing to her. Sad. He’d thought she had more class.
For much of the trek, Gullfoss was obscured by the rock-hewn chasm. To enjoy the full majesty of the falls required a walk out on a prominent rock outcropping. It dawned on Seth why Isanne would arrange the meeting at the airport. The guy had to be able to identify him. He needed to get a good look. Son of a bitch.
Seth wasn’t at all surprised when he saw Luka. He couldn’t see his face at first, his hood was up, but his posture was distinctive. Seth felt sick when he saw him. And he was afraid. What was this guy planning? There were a lot of tourists around, so maybe he should confront him now. Let him know that whatever scheme he and Isanne had cooked up wasn’t coming to fruition.
Seth approached Luka from the side. He jerked in surprise when he saw Seth.
“Vad vill du?”
“It’s over pal. Your little plan ain’t going to happen. I’m calling the authorities.”
“Vad vill du?”
This kid goes a buck sixty tops. Seth thought. He’s going to find out that what Isanne told him about her aging-testosterone-deficient husband isn’t entirely true. She mocked him for his thrice-weekly gym visits, but if it got down to it, Seth was pretty sure he could stomp this skinny little motherfucker.
“Vem är du?”
“Cute. That’s almost believable. Does that even mean anything? Where’re you pretending to be from?”
“Jag talar inte engelska. Vad vill du?”
He was sticking to this no-speaky-English bullshit. “I’ll show you what vad will fuckin’ do, you little prick.”
“lämna mig ifred! Jag har inga pengar!”
Seth tried to grab him, but Luka spun away and lunged across the foot-worn outcropping. Before Seth even had time react, the boy slipped on the slick rock and sprawled just fifteen feet away.
Seth laughed as he strode up to him, “Not this time, you little son of a bitch.” He hemmed the kid in against the edge of a drop-off, the cascades at the head of the falls roaring below.
“Vad vill du?”
When Seth went in for the pin, Luka did a quick, sideways roll to escape. He must not have realized he was so close to the edge. Luka let out a short gasp when he realized he was going over. No screams. Just a short gasp. Seth had reached for him. It all happened so fast.
Luka popped up in the whitewater, flailing wildly. Seth made brief eye contact with the terrified boy, but could do nothing to help him. He watched as Luka thrashed in vain against the current. Tourists on the outcrop called out for help and pointed hysterically. After what must have been only a few seconds, it seemed much longer, Luka stopped trying to swim against the current. He was exhausted…defeated. A woman’s scream marked his passage into the chaos of Gullfoss’s maw.
Seth stood staring through the mist at the churning water below. When he managed to turn away, he saw that several people had formed a loose semi-circle around him. Two young muscular young men were cautiously edging toward him.
END

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