Uterus by Þórdís Helgadóttir Trans. Larissa Kyzer


Elí caught his wife sucking chicken with his best friend. Alís had told him she was going to the gym after work, but then he saw their car outside Óttar’s house as he was biking past. Elí knocked on the door; he tested the knob, found it unlocked, and walked in. There they were, in the kitchen: Óttar and Alís, each on either side of the granite-topped kitchen island. There were two tidily dressed chickens on a large platter in between them—breasts, wings, fillets, legs. Alís was in the middle of doing the chicken dance, her greasy hands extended from her body, her elbows bent, her fingers splayed. Her eyes were closed but her mouth was open, gluttonous. She leaned forward, stretched out her long tongue, and wrapped it like a slice of bacon around the chicken thigh that Óttar was holding aloft. Elí could have maybe—maybe—shrugged this all off if it hadn’t been for one small detail that unequivocally crossed the line, which was the fact that the chicken was raw.

Finally, they noticed him. It was as if someone had poured a bucket of ice water over their heads. They transformed in the blink of an eye. Their muscles tensed, their pupils dilated, and Elí could almost see the goosebumps forming. That was the worst part. Worse even than the chicken being raw. Alís’s reaction cut Elí to the quick. She’d always told him there was nowhere in the world she felt safer than in his arms. Now, however, Elí’s presence elicited a flight response from her. He couldn’t even think the word betrayal. He was too dumbfounded to take notice of the electricity crawling under his skin, along his limbs, and out into his fingers and toes. It was like there was something closing in on his skull from the inside, as if it were filling with popcorn. He’d never experienced quite this sort of pain before.

Alís dried off her hands.

“We’re just doing a bit of prep,” she said.

They both looked at Óttar’s back; he’d quickly spun toward the kitchen sink and turned on the faucet. A few white and brown feathers were stuck together in soapy puddles by the sink. Elí looked at Alís across the island, then down at the platter in between them where pieces of chicken were lying in a shallow pool of bloody liquid. They were the same color as Elí’s face when he crossed the finish line in the marathon last year. Their shiny, gelatinous texture screamed food poisoning.

“What are you doing?” said Elí. Alís took a few steps in his direction. He looked at her. She was wearing a sleeveless, pink top over a sports bra and her muscular shoulder flexed attractively when she lifted her arm toward him.

“Brainstorming,” she said. “You know, we’re doing an experiment.”

He stared at Alís and didn’t say a word.

“You want to come to the gym with me?” she asked.

“Wash your motherfucking hands,” said Elí when he was finally able to speak.

She jerked back in surprise. He never spoke like that to her.

“Sure,” she said, trying to act as though nothing were the matter. “Right. Of course.”

Óttar was still scrubbing away at kitchen utensils when they left. Even with his back turned, Elí could tell from his drooped shoulders that he was ashamed. Elí and Alís walked out to the car and Elí put his bike in the trunk. Maybe Alís had just dropped by on her way to the gym. She was in her gym clothes. That didn’t really mean anything, though. She went around in gym clothes more or less every day.

He started the car and drove to the gym without saying a word.      The HIIT class was just about to start when they got there.

Alís started vomiting early the next morning. Elí helped her totter into the bathroom. She was hot and clammy to the touch and her limbs were heavy as logs, as if they’d temporarily stopped working in order to flee the agony of being flesh and blood. Don’t drag us into this, they said. We’re just cogs in the machine. But Elí dragged them along anyway.

Alís had no respite from her suffering. She clung to the toilet, white-knuckled, breathing rapidly and shallowly while Elí waited on the other side of the half-closed door, ready to jump into action and help if the strength went out of her tremoring hands, which were, with some effort, preventing her from falling when effluvia gushed out of her in all directions. Elí listened. His stomach flip-flopped at the sounds that accompanied each convulsion, long after there was nothing left for her to vomit but bile and blood.      

Eventually, he came to and realized he hadn’t heard Alís for a long time. He found her on the floor, limp and gray, her eyes closed and her mouth open. Her cheek was pressed against the toilet bowl. Her skin was shiny and taut, and he could make out the spot where she’d broken her left collarbone a few years ago and it healed crookedly.

He wrapped a bathrobe around her, picked her up like a small child, and carried her to bed.

All this happened on the Friday before the dinner club. On Monday, Alís was still seriously ill. On Tuesday, she’d gotten a little of her energy back and could keep down half a cup of soup. Her eyes were still delirious, though. Watery, filled with fever dreams. On Wednesday, she went to work. On Thursday morning, she woke at 6:00 AM and went for a jog. Elí heard her singing in the shower.

He made coffee and waited for her in the kitchen. He could hear her footsteps upstairs. She went into the laundry room, opened the buzzing freezer, and rooted through it for a moment before she came loping down the stairs with wet splotches on her shoulders from her newly washed hair and a bag of frozen strawberries. Alís emptied the bag into the blender and turned it on while she collected the rest of the ingredients. When her shake was ready, she sat down across from him.

“I’ve got something to tell you,” she said.

“Oh?” he said.

“I’ve made a decision.”

“Oh?” said Elí again. His forearms rested lightly on the tabletop; his hands were clasped. Only his nostrils tensed.

“I’m going to do the Iron Man in September,” said Alís.

“Wow,” said Elí.

“Do you believe in me?” asked Alís. “Say you believe in me.”

“Wow,” said Elí. “I believe in you. I really do.”

 It was true.

“And you’re okay with us postponing Kilimanjaro?” she asked.

“Kilimanjaro isn’t going anywhere.”

She smiled.

“I believe in you,” said Elí. “You’re going to smash it.”

And he meant every word.

The dinner club was held four times a year—every three months on the first Saturday. Alís and Elí had hosted the time before last. It had been in November and the theme was Thanksgiving. Everything was perfect. Turkey with stuffing, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, Brussels sprouts, pumpkin pie. They spent two straight days cooking and then ate leftovers all week. No one could say they hadn’t pulled their weight.

Which is why Elí didn’t really understand why Alís had to take that Friday off to help Óttar. Normally, he wouldn’t have made a fuss about it. But something about it irritated him now. The club was Óttar’s brainchild and he was the one who’d decided that everything had to be done to the nines. They’d already done their bit, hadn’t they? Alís shrugged. It wasn’t a big deal, she said. She’d just have a nice little day off. Elí didn’t answer. Anyway, she added, Óttar was on his own, while even with the two of them, they’d slaved away in the kitchen for days. Of course he was on his own, answered Elí. What kind of woman would want to live with a man who spent more time getting ready in the morning than she did? Alís frowned, surprised and upset that he’d talk that way about the man who was supposedly his best friend. Elí himself was caught a bit off-guard by how obnoxious he was being. 

“What do you mean what kind of woman?” said Alís. “Isn’t he gay?     .”

Elí studied her face. He was tired. He just wanted a bit of peace, focus, and for there to be rules to things.

“Yeah, of course,” he said. “Sorry, I don’t know where I was going with that.”

Alís came home late Friday night. Elí was already in bed. Her hair smelled like a slaughterhouse when she cuddled up to him, but he didn’t say anything. When he woke up, the smell was gone. Alís was also gone. But she’d left a note. Went for a ride. See you this afternoon.

This was why he and Alís didn’t have kids. Or at least this was what Elí always said when anyone asked. Kids? When would Alís have time to bike? When would they have time to swim? Or box? When would Elí surf? You always sacrifice something, he’d say, no matter how you choose to live.

And they’d chosen to live intentionally. They understood that you could always replenish money, but you could never get back squandered time. They could never let themselves forget that time was a limited resource; they had to use it deliberately and make it count. They were stingy and proud of it. Alís and Elí didn’t care if they missed episodes of TV shows that everyone watched. They didn’t worry about falling out of touch with friends who weren’t into sports—they just made new ones. They traveled, went diving. They climbed mountains. Next up was Kilimanjaro. They set ambitious goals for themselves and worked hard to achieve them.

Alís even more so than Elí.

He was always trying to get her to understand that sometimes, it paid to slow down. You could get further in the end if you just relaxed a bit. If he hadn’t demanded it, they would never have gone on vacation. Alís couldn’t stand to be at loose ends. Elí tried to get her interested in cooking. He’d always been a good cook and knew a lot about nutrition, since it was also an integral part of keeping yourself in peak physical condition—something he tried to get her to understand. But Alís was too restless to cook. At least, she had been before they joined the dinner club. She’d buy ready-made meals and basically just shovel down whatever was in front of her. Elí was patient with it. She’d come around. There was a part of her that was still the wild, uninhibited Alís he’d met so long ago. The one who got shit-faced every weekend, who danced more than anyone, and who was always still on her feet long after everyone else had given up.      

The dinner club members only hosted one dinner party a year. But the expectation was one of extravagance. The hosts chose the theme, usually far in advance, but kept it secret until the morning of the dinner party. The guests then had a few hours’ notice to get ready, with the understanding that they’d arrive dressed according to the night’s theme.

It had been a year since Óttar invited Elí to join the dinner club. A certain shadow had been cast over their friendship that day, the traces of which still remained. 

The dinner club was secret. You were not allowed to discuss it with outsiders. There were no photographs. No mentions of its existence to be found on Instagram or Facebook. Óttar was the founder, the ideasmith, and supreme leader of the dinner club. There were always exactly four members, either individuals or couples. If a member dropped out, Óttar would find someone new to take their place so that there would always be the same number of members. If someone left the club, they were never allowed back.

 It was all very typical Óttar. It was also typical Óttar to track down an old lady on his winter vacation in Sardinia, cajole her into teaching him the dying art of making “God pasta,” su filindeu, and then come back home with a bulging suitcase of prosciutto, wine, real copper pots, and special wooden spoons used to spread out the pasta while it dried in the sun. He’d cooked five courses for them—su filindeu with squid ink, a whole-roasted suckling pig, almond ice cream, coffee, and then at the end, he appeared with a new kind of wine and a large, brown paper bag from which they could hear muffled crackling sounds. The first thing they thought of was tiny kernels of corn popping. But it couldn’t be popcorn—for one thing, there was no visible heat source. Then Óttar carefully placed the plate in the middle of the table, whipped away the paper, and all the initiates gasped. Alís and Elí peered suspiciously at the cheese in front of them. What was it? Some kind of pecorino? Óttar nodded, pleased with himself, and passed sunglasses out to his guests. Casu marzu, he said. Illegal in fifty countries. The rind was thick, but the innards were soft, like clumpy pudding. They couldn’t see the maggots with their naked eyes, but as soon as they took their first bites, they could feel them scurrying around in their mouths. They reminded Elí of the exploding gum that he and Óttar had loved as little boys. He both wanted to retch and close his eyes in ecstasy. Alís asked what the sunglasses were for. Óttar smirked.

“They jump.”

The dinner club had been going on for seven years, nearly as long as Elí and Alís had known each other. Óttar had never mentioned it. Elí first heard about the club when a mutual friend passed away in an accident and Óttar offered Elí her spot. That rubbed Elí the wrong way. He wasn’t easily provoked and kept his irritation to himself, but it made him wonder what other parts of his life Óttar was keeping secret. Óttar sensed his displeasure and made a point of telling Elí that there were any number of people among their wider acquaintance who would have given an arm for a place in the club. Elí accepted the invitation. But he also asked himself what really remained of their childhood friendship.

Alís wasn’t particularly excited to begin with, no more than Elí had expected. But after the first dinner party, the one with the Sardinian theme, she became obsessed. Alís was on crutches at the time, she’d broken an ankle when she took a hard fall during a trail run in bad weather. And yet, she still went to the gym every day—did conditioning, lifted weights, and swam. And then she suddenly developed this burning interest in cheese. Elí thought that was a positive sign—an increasing joie de vivre, and best of all, an interest in food. She combed through specialty shops and came home with strange types of cheese, some that smelled so strongly that Elí’s eyes teared up when she came through the door. When they went abroad, she sought out strange gourmet markets, bought vacuum-packed cheese, and smuggled it home.

Alís’s ankle gradually healed and she was able to start running again. Elí, who’d always been an athlete, stopped being able to keep up with her. Their friends would often make good-natured jokes about the former party girl marrying a personal trainer. Elí never found it funny. People didn’t understand their love. Didn’t understand that Alís was the sun in his life, a force of nature—sharp, complicated, and inconceivably powerful. She pushed him to keep moving and inspired him. In return, he provided counterbalance, grounding, bottomless patience, and security. He didn’t have to completely understand her all the time. All the other stuff was enough. They kept going, cultivated positivity, set goals for themselves and then achieved them, one after the other, and never stopped or dwelled in the past.

Sometimes, Elí found rotten toenails in the laundry basket with the gym clothes.

It was as though the food poisoning had filled Alís with a new energy. She came home after a six-hour bike ride, glowing red and sweaty. She took a long shower, then started painting her face white and putting her hair into a tidy bun with two chopsticks going through it. They’d gotten the message first thing that morning. The theme was yakitori. Neither of them knew much about Japanese cuisine, but Alís had gone to Tokyo and had a beautiful red kimono, which she put on. Elí had asked around that morning and been able to borrow a black robe with intricate embroidery on the back from an acquaintance. He gelled his black hair back from his forehead and knotted it into a tiny man bun on the back of his head. The result was pretty convincing.   

Alís spritzed hairspray over her updo.

“You don’t look terrible,” she said, giving him a once-over.

“I do my best,” he said.

All done up, they ambled out to the car at ten to seven. Elí drove and both were quiet. Halfway there, Elí broke the silence.

“I’ve made a decision, too,” he said.

“Oh?” said Alís. “How nice.”

He wasn’t sure what he heard in her tone. He gave her a quick look. With her hair up like that, he could see how damaged her left ear was. But her smile seemed innocent enough.

“I’m gonna go for it with Kristjana,” he said.

“What?” said Alís, a drop of something dark suddenly polluting her expression.

“Yeah, she’s put together a really extensive analysis and there’s no doubt about it that there’s a demand.”

“For a mommies’ class?”

“Yeah, so, that’s the angle. None of what’s on offer has that exact angle.”

“Wait, what angle?”

“Self-image building, movement, and infant nutrition. There’s definitely a pretty underserved target group there.”


“I told you about this.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s just…”


“What about Kilimanjaro?”

Elí sighed. He parked in front of Óttar’s house, turned off the car, and looked at Alís. She had tears in her eyes. Under normal circumstances, he would have hurried to unbuckle and given her a hug. But now, he had no desire to do so.

“What’s wrong?” he asked in a calm, even tone.

“What do you mean?”

“Why can’t I get a little…?”


He threw up his hands.

“Alís, honestly. A little support! Who took care of you around the clock for three days straight while you had salmonella poisoning?”

Alís’s face clouded over.

“Salmonella?” she said, starting to cry. “What are you talking about? I didn’t have salmonella.”

Óttar looked like a scruffy, bearded gazelle when he opened the door—slender, straight-backed, and nimble. He received his friends with ceremony in the vestibule, kissed Alís on both cheeks, embraced them both and handed them an aperitif as they entered. Laughter filled the living room. The innocent happiness of being in costume among other people filled their stomachs with butterflies that then slipped from their mouths, tinkling like silver bells. They drank in the moment—sweet, transient, and completely undocumented. Google had, however, been very useful in deciphering the evening’s theme. Yakitori was street food. It wasn’t, then, much of a leap to street fashion. Jakobína—Óttar’s sister who, in her everyday life, was the project manager at a software company—had transformed herself into a pink-haired Lolita in a frilly dress and matching parasol. Her husband, Jafet, a consultant at the Ministry of Finance, had become a punk in ripped jeans and jacket. Þóra, who taught belly dancing and ran a cultural program on the radio, was playing the part of a Japanese salaryman in a perfectly tailored suit. She was nearly unrecognizable with her hair slicked back, delicate titanium glasses perched on her nose, a briefcase, and a strange-looking, hi-tech watch on her wrist. Sitting next to her was a six-foot-five egg-shaped gray rabbit, which Elí recognized as the animated character Totoro. Further examination revealed that the costume contained Þóra’s wife Móeiður, a historian who specialized in the 17th century.

Óttar was standing over the grill in a judo gi, brandishing a knife. He was in his element, blasé and benevolent, ridiculous and a little smug. He tended to be on edge and get stressed around other people, but this was his night. He put Japanese pop music on the record player and served sake and Japanese beer to his guests. Alís declined.

Everyone was invited to make themselves comfortable while Óttar explained the theme. They could expect it to take a while. To start with, he had to show them the set-up. In Japan, explained Óttar, there were special electric grills, called yakitori-ki, that the general public could buy to prepare yakitori at home. Tonight, however, he’d be implementing the traditional method, flash-grilling on a charcoal grill. First, he’d cut the meat into thin pieces and thread them onto kushi, or skewers. Then high heat, open flame, and a little steam: cooking this way ensured that the chicken cooked quickly, with crunchy exterior and that characteristic yakitori flavor.

“So what you’re saying is: it’s grilled chicken,” said Móeiður.

“Japanese grilled chicken,” corrected Jafet with a snicker.

Óttar shook his head, putting on a strict headmistress expression and pursing his lips.

“Hey, are you preggo?” Jakobína whispered to Alís, pointing at her water glass.

Óttar shushed them with a theatrical gesture.

“Our menu tonight, however,” he said, “will explode traditional yakitori cuisine.”

“Alright, here it comes,” said Jafet, winking at Elí.

“Shhh,” said Óttar. “I will be serving an omakase menu. OMAKASE!” he repeated over the heckling. “I’m sure you all know what that means. In between the classic yakitori skewers, I’ll be serving dishes like grilled chicken hearts, sweet shishito peppers with corn, chicken sashimi, and duck breast with asparagus. We’ll have traditional mochi for dessert.”

Móeiður raised her hand.

“Totoro,” said Óttar.

“One question,” said Móeiður.

“Shoot,” said Óttar.

“How do you make sashimi out of chickpeas?”

“He didn’t say chickpeas,” said Jakobína.

“No—Jesus Christ,” said Jafet.

“Oh my,” said Móeiður.

“Have I ever given you all any reason not to trust me?” asked Óttar mildly.

“Sashimi?” asked Þóra. “Like sushi?”

“It’s raw,” said Móeiður.

“Raw chicken?” asked Þóra.

“Deep breaths!” said Óttar. “Anywhere you go in Japan, they serve yakitori. If it’s done correctly, it’s 100% safe.”

“Like fugu? That pufferfish?” asked Alís.

“Totally different,” said Óttar. “So: The inner part of the breast muscle is sterile; bacteria lives on the surface of the meat. That’s the first thing. Secondly, it’s all a matter of where the meat comes from. You have to work closely with small farms. And that’s what I’ve done. The chicken you’ll be served today was alive and clucking not an hour before you got here. I witnessed its slaughter myself.” 

“Whoa,” said Þóra.

“You don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to, obviously,” said Móeiður. “You can always pass.”

“Of course,” said Óttar with a smile. “You can pass. And then never come back.”

The vibe around Óttar couldn’t be more different from what it was like when Elí met up with his other friends. The guys. They were a lot more like Elí—serious, orderly, ambitious men who put a lot of stock in the virtues of the body. Simple-hearted men. They just manage to scrape together enough sense of humor for one guy between them, said Alís. If they all chip in. Óttar was the exact opposite. Óttar was sarcastic, commitment phobic. He could do everything and knew everything, but somehow could never settle anywhere—never put down roots, be it in work, relationships, or apartments. He was captivating, in his way. Could set the mood with a flick of his wrist, glowed with a kind of contagious joie de vivre. He spent far beyond his means on trips abroad, food, and experiences, and yet he always had something put by.

Alís had always found this unlikely friendship hysterical. But it was a friendship older than the hills. It had blossomed between two little boys. A strong thread had once connected two precocious, soccer-loving kids, and the thread still held. Elí had always been good-looking and honorable. He had no natural enemies. Óttar, on the other hand, had more than his fair share. Óttar had been a mouthy kid, a bit feminine, and no matter how much he practiced, he was never any good at soccer. But he thought big, and that really resonated with Elí. The other kids were all alike: predictable, with predictable dreams. Óttar and Elí dreamed dreams that allowed them to shake off their village, their country, and sometimes even reality itself. Óttar introduced Elí to manga and capoeira. He gave Elí adventure. And Elí gave him security.

They were inseparable throughout their teen years, moved to the city for secondary school. After they graduated, they saved some money and went on a trip around the world. In Guatemala, they met a backpacker from Israel, a girl traveling by herself. She tagged along with them, Elí fell in love, and the very night they met her, he confided in Óttar that he was going to marry her and have children with her. Elí could barely remember what the girl looked like anymore. But what he did remember was waking up in the middle of the night. He remembered the sounds coming from Óttar’s sleeping bag. He’d never suspected that Óttar was interested in girls. And, moreover, it would have never occurred to him that a woman would choose Óttar over him. Elí was forced to face the fact that deep down, he thought of Óttar as the lesser friend.

After the shishito peppers were served, Jakobína, who was already pretty drunk, got two bottles of beer from the fridge and passed one to Alís. She turned it down. Jakobína nodded, pleased with herself.

“You are!” she said.

Alís said nothing.

“She’s doing the Iron Man,” said Elí.

“Really?” said Jakobína.

“In September,” said Alís. “I’ve started training.”

“Cool,” said Jakobína. “But isn’t it      about time for you two to have a little one? Next year?”

Alís usually trained a death stare on people who asked her this. But this time, she just shrugged.

“Every year makes a difference,” continued Jakobína. “I can’t even begin to explain how different it is to become a mother at 28 and 42.”

“Starting a family is obviously a wonderful thing,” said Elí. “But we made the mutual decision to put freedom first in our lives. They’re both perfectly good and valid ways to lead a rich and fulfilling life. We respect other people’s choices and ask that other people respect ours.”

Jakobína yawned.

Alís took a pepper.

“How’s that been? Didn’t you break your ankle?” asked Jakobína.

“Yeah,” said Alís. “Last year. But I got the green light to start training again.”

“Got it,” said Jakobína. “But don’t you think it’s a bit…extreme?”

Alís shook her head decisively, chewing on her pepper.

The time had come for the chicken sashimi. To some people’s relief, and others’ disappointment, it turned out that the chicken wasn’t completely raw. After the skewer had been marinated briefly in ginger oil, Óttar asked his guests to follow him out onto the balcony, where they watched him grill the skewers for precisely two minutes, a foot or so above an open flame. As soon as that was done, he drizzled ginger soy sauce over them, a little sansho pepper and wasabi, and served them. The flavor was mild, the meat hot, fatty, and sweet, although yes, under its crunchy exterior, the chicken was clearly raw. Óttar took the first bite with great ceremony and no one dared do other than follow his example. Elí ate his skewer in silence and was forced to admit that it didn’t taste bad.

“Well,” said Móeiður. “I can say I’ve lived now. Casu marzu, chicken sashimi…”

“This definitely isn’t legal, is it?” asked Jafet and everyone laughed.

“I said it before and I’ll say it again,” said Óttar. “You’re in less danger of getting food poisoning here than at KFC.”

“Oh, go fuck yourself,” said Elí quietly. It was so unexpected and out of character that everyone stopped eating. Everyone except Óttar. He kept talking and paid no attention to Elí.

“I’m not even exaggerating,” he said. “This dinner party meets all the sanitary and food handling requirements of a Michelin-starred restaurant.”

They laughed.

“Swear on my mother,” said Óttar.

“Is that so?” said Elí, seething. “And what about the whole thing with Alís?”

They all looked at Alís, who was pulling the last shreds of chicken from her skewer with her teeth.

“What thing with Alís?” asked Óttar.

“She vomited for three days straight!” said Elí. “After I found you guys the other day, eating that omakase, or whatever it’s called. That slimy, raw…”

Móeiður gingerly put down her chicken skewer. Þóra, who’d been nibbling at the edges of hers, looked at the pieces as if they might pounce and attack her at any moment.

“Sick?” asked Óttar.

“No, no.” Alís shook her head.

“Yes, yes!” said Elí. “Why are you denying it? You got salmonella poisoning!”

“There was a stomach bug going around,” said Alís. “It was nothing.”

Everyone was silent.

“Nearly every other person at work came down with a case of flow and blow last week,” said Alís. “People were saying that half the kids at all the preschools around town were home sick.”

Alís looked at Móeiður and Þóra. They looked at each other.

“Not ours,” said Móeiður.

Óttar laughed and shrugged, but Elí could see the tension building in his throat.

“Will you guys just trust me?” said Óttar. “People catch things all the time and don’t think twice about it. In reality, food poisoning is really quite rare. Alís—Alís has been such a rock. A chef with real passion, this woman. Actually, she deserves half the credit for the dinner party tonight.”

Alís smiled. They all smiled. Someone clapped. And gradually, they all started chatting and giggling again. The mood lightened, ever so little. But not enough. There was a heaviness hanging over them that prevented it. The dinner party was a fallen cake. No one took another bite.

When Elí next looked at Alís, she was putting a full spoon of specially imported, dye-free, authentic wasabi into her mouth. People had gone out on the balcony to smoke. He took the opportunity to speak with her privately.

“Alright,” he said. “Isn’t it about time we went home?”

She gave him an arch look and it took him a moment to realize she was angry. Angry with him. For not letting her lie.

“The party isn’t over,” she said. Then she reached for the sake bottle on the table in between them and filled a glass to the brim. She raised it to her lips and washed down the wasabi in one gulp. Elí shuddered.

“What are you doing?” he asked. “Are you trying to get sick?”

She looked at him like he’d said something deep and significant. Then smiled and shook her head.

“Óttar!” she called then. “Óttar, can I bum a smoke?”

It had been six years since Alís had touched tobacco. Elí looked after her open-mouthed as she disappeared through the door to the balcony. He felt like she was avenging herself on him for something, but he didn’t know what. No one was inside except for Elí and Óttar. 

Óttar sat down in her seat before it was even cold. He glared at Elí. There was nothing of the cheerful host left in his demeanor.

“What’s wrong with you?” he hissed.

Elí didn’t flinch and kept his expression neutral, pretended he was made of stone.

 “This isn’t normal,” he finally said.

“Idiot,” said Óttar. “You’re so fucking vindictive.”


“Who do you think you are?”


“You’re still pissed off,” said Óttar. “That I’d do something and not invite you.”

“You’re the vindictive one,” was the most cutting thing that Elí could think to say.

Óttar snorted.

“Oh, right. Okay, maybe I am a little. Still, it’s nothing compared to you. We’re not even playing in the same league.”

“Ha, as if they’d ever let you in any league,” said Elí, smiling broadly. He could suddenly feel how drunk he was.

“Hey,” said Óttar. “I play soccer with you guys all the time.”

“Yeah, all the time,” said Elí. “Once a year, like clockwork.”

Óttar laughed.

“Why don’t you be my personal trainer?” he asked.

“I will be your personal trainer,” said Elí.

“Great,” said Óttar. “And I’ll teach your wife to cook.”

“No,” said Elí. “Let Alís be.”

“OK,” said Óttar. “So, I should slam the door on her when she comes by?”

“Yeah,” said Elí. “Slam the door. She’s used up all her sick days at work.”

“You’re out of your mind,” said Óttar.

“I know exactly what you’re up to.”

“Up to?” said Óttar. “Listen to yourself.”

“You’re just patiently waiting. Waiting for an opportunity. Gaining her trust slowly but surely. Can’t ever accuse you of anything.”

“Ah, is that so? And then what?”

“You’re just like a crocodile. Lying in wait. And when you see that our relationship is on the rocks…BAM!”

Elí made a crocodile jaw with his arms, slapping his palms together with a loud smack and looking his friend dead in the eye. But he didn’t see anger in them anymore.

“Right,” said Óttar. “When your relationship is on the rocks.”

Elí didn’t say anything.

“Your wife is falling apart,” said Óttar. “Talk to her.”

A bit later, Jakobína and Alís tumbled back into the room, arm in arm.

“The stars are so bright!” shouted Alís. “You have to come look!”

Everyone crammed back out onto the balcony. The night was absolutely clear, the air crisp but fragrant with the promise of summer. Bright and blinking stars were clearly visible in the royal blue sky. Alís hopped up and down with excitement and threw her arms around Elí’s neck.

“Not preggo,” said Jakobína when they’d finally come inside again and sat back around the dining room table. Óttar was fussing over dessert. “Clearly not preggo.”

Alís laughed. Far too loud and far too long.

“No,” she said finally. “Not preggo. I should know. Not unless Elí has been getting up to something in the freezer.”

Jakobína barked out a laugh.

“The freezer! Right, obviously.” She brushed a tear from her cheek. “Or, wait—what?” she then asked. “What do you mean?”

“Just what I said,” said Alís. “The freezer.”

“Alís,” said Elí. “No.”

She acted like she didn’t hear him.

“The freezer,” said Jakobína, laughing into her drink. “What are you talking about?”

“Yeah,” said Alís with a laugh. “It’s ridiculous. But that’s just where I keep it.”

She poured herself another glass.

“Keep what?” asked Jakobína.

“My uterus!” said Alís and they both burst into laughter.

No one else laughed. Or made any sound at all.

“Your uterus?” said Jakobína.

“You’re way too drunk,” said Elí. “Stop this. Let’s go home.”

She didn’t look at him.

“Yep, it’s in there, right between the frozen strawberries and some lasagna leftovers that we always forget to eat,” said Alís, cracking up.

“Your uterus?” howled Jakobína.

“What are you two talking about?” shouted Þóra.

“Her uterus!” answered Jakobína.


“Yeah,” said Alís. “I keep it in the freezer. That somehow seems best. Or as good as it’s gonna get, at least.”

“Are you serious?” said Móeiður. “Did you really have your uterus removed and then kept it…?”

“No no no no no no no no no no,” said Alís. “I didn’t ask for it to be taken out. It was just taken. I started bleeding really badly so I rushed to the hospital, in just this intense pain. By then, the fetus was dead, of course. Again. Yet again. But then I kept bleeding and lost consciousness and then they finally gave me a proper examination and found all kinds of inflammation and junk in my uterus. And some growth that was squeezing everything and when they examined it, it turned out to be malignant and there was no other option but to perform an immediate hysterectomy.”

Everyone was silent. Alís shook her head and took a big gulp.

“And then I just got pushy,” she continued. “There’s a protocol; you can’t just take organs home with you. The doctors said that from a legal standpoint, my uterus became the property of the hospital the second it was no longer inside me. Which is obviously ridiculous. So, I talked with my mother’s sister who’s a head nurse in the OR and she made the arrangements.”

“But why?” said Móeiður.

“Yeah, so, that’s a good question,” said Alís. “It’s not like it’s going to be useful, right? But as a souvenir, I guess?”

No one had paid any attention to Elí in a long time. And yet everyone noticed when he stood up from his seat, got his jacket, and left without saying a word. He slammed the door behind him, went out to the car, and then drove drunk for the first time in his life, all the way home. It was nothing but sheer luck that he didn’t crash into a lamppost or get arrested.

It was an anomaly, thought Elí when he woke up. She didn’t usually drink that much. Not anymore. She’d been sick recently. She’d get her feet back under her. Óttar was a bad influence on her, him and his monomaniacal food fixations. The dinner club was total bullshit. They’d quit. They had a nice life together. There were so many exciting things ahead of them. Kilimanjaro. Not many people had enough time to get everything out of life that could be gotten. Most people lived at 20 – 30%. But not them. He felt a stab when he thought about Óttar, how their friendship—warm, strong, and effortless—had deteriorated and gone sour somewhere along the way. But that was just the way it was. There was no one to blame. That was just life: one door closed, and another opened…

He rolled over and looked at the other side of the bed. The pillow smelled of sunshine and soap, but Alís wasn’t there. Confused, he got his phone and saw it was a quarter to five. He had to pee. He felt it now. What had woken him up.

Elí propped himself up. He felt nauseous. He suddenly felt like he might die if he didn’t get up and out of bed immediately. He took fast, shallow breaths, walked unsteadily toward the door, and into the hallway. He missed the light switch and fumbled along the wall in the darkness. He could hear familiar sounds coming from the kitchen. Alís had come home after all, was down there fiddling with something. Elí stood there quietly for a moment. Then suddenly, he was overcome with the conviction that he’d never see light again. He hurried back along the hall and flipped the switch. The familiar walls appeared before him and dragged him back into reality. Family pictures were hanging in their usual spots among travel photos and a wall map that he and Alís used for inspiration. The bathroom was just before the end of the hallway; on the right, the stairs down to the first floor; on the left, the laundry room. He could hear the freezer buzzing from behind the closed door.

Elí realized that he didn’t actually have to use the bathroom after all. He went to the laundry room door and opened it. The buzzing was louder now that the door was open, louder than he remembered it being. Maybe his ears were ringing. He stepped into the laundry room and put his hands on the lid of the freezer. He felt a bit like he’d stepped out of his own body. It was a strange and unsettling feeling. He had an overwhelming desire to flee. An incredible anxiety rose from his stomach, up into his chest and throat, like he’d been caught in a snare. He thought about Alís and everything she did to herself, the gauntlet she put her body through, and something that she’d told him once: that she’d never be satisfied with her body or trust it ever again. He hadn’t had an answer to that. Later, he encouraged her to live a healthy life. Told her that perfecting his body had always seemed to him the most obvious way to live his best life. They’d never had that conversation again. They were happy. They were on the same wavelength. They were in their best shape. They had scaled Vatnajökull glacier, had floated hand in hand in the Dead Sea. What more could you really ask for?

He grabbed the handle and opened the freezer. It was partially filled with food. Half a lamb butchered into meal-size portions, beans and more beans, ice cream, Ziplocs filled with vegetables and fruit, ice trays, and all kinds of old leftovers in plastic containers that had stockpiled in spite of their best intentions. Elí noticed they didn’t have any more strawberries. They’d need to buy some tomorrow. Alís put strawberries in her protein shakes nearly every morning. There was nothing else. A bit of an indentation. Nothing unusual. It was just a normal freezer.

Elí blinked a few times and then closed the freezer door again. He heard her moving around downstairs. The blender turned on. He breathed in deep, took three steps into the hallway, and then it happened. It crashed over him swiftly and mercilessly; his body, issuing a declaration of war. His whole being clenched in one, single cramp and before he even had time to be surprised the vomit had already made its way up his throat and out out out and all over everything.

Thordis Helgadottir is a writer based in Iceland. She is the author of acclaimed short story collection Keisaramörgæsir (Emperor Penguins) and co-author of two poetry collections with the Svikaskáld (Imposter Poets) poetry collective. Her theatrical work has been staged at the Reykjavík City Theatre, where she was selected as one of the most promising upcoming playwrights in 2019 and was consequently the 2019-2020 playwright-in-residence. Her short fiction has appeared widely, including in Iceland Review, TMM, Alda and Words without Borders (forthcoming). A Fulbright scholar, Thordis holds degrees in creative writing and philosophy.