The poem goes:
Eight lovely little maidens saw two airships.
One became spellbound and then there were seven left.
The evening sun warms the street of Reykjavik when Theodóra climbs out of the car, stiff necked and sleepy after a six hour long ride. Her father unloads the car, but her mother runs ahead and opens the front door. “It's fine,“ she shouts, “The air a bit stale and there some dead bluebottles in the windows, but nothing else.“
Theodóra’s mother has been a little worried. Keeping a flat in the city is expensive, so lately they have rented it out, a week at a time. Theodóra doesn't like to think of strangers staying in their little city home. But it has to be like this. The financial crisis, the grown ups' favourite topic of discussion, has changed many things.
Theodóra walks slowly up the steps and peeks through the downstairs kitchen window. There is nothing to see, except Brynja's colorful pottery bowl. Theodóra knows full well that Brynja and her family are not at home. They arrive from Blackpool on the late evening flight.
A knock on the bedroom door wakes Theodóra the morning after. She has barely had time to mumble “Come in“ before Brynja is in the room laughing and shouting. “Come down to our place. I made pancakes! “
Theodóra stumbles out of bed and hugs Brynja. “This early? It's barely half past seven. Aren't you tired after your flight? “
“Of course not! I slept all the way. I almost slept through customs too. Come on, I want to show you my new trophy! “
Theodóra is graciously allowed a bathroom stop, before she follows Brynja downstairs. Tempting aromas of pancakes and bacon meet them and Theodóra realises how hungry she is.
A huge silver trophy, decorated with an elegant dancing couple, takes pride of place on the kitchen table. In it sits Guðrún, Brynja's doll. She seems to smile smugly, being the centre of attention on this gleaming throne.
“This one is really big. Congratulations, Brynja!“ says Theodóra as she admires the trophy.
“Yes, Jón and I, my dancing partner, you know, we got silver in the Latin dances so we did well. Isn't that right, little Guðrún? We did well this time?“ She pulls the dolls braids playfully as she sits down.
The morning passes quickly. Theodóra's parents clean the apartment and mow the lawn, but the girls forget to help. They unpack their bags, talk, look at photos and play.
“Shouldn't we go downtown? Perhaps on a picnic in the park by the pond? “ suggests Brynja “I got a blanket for my birthday, but I haven't had a chance to use it yet. I have been rehearsing constantly,“ she adds hopefully.
“It's a bit cold,“ says Theodóra as she looks doubtfully out the window at the cloudy sky.
“That does not matter. You have a wool sweater right? Wear a warm sweater, wool socks and warm trousers, then you won't be cold! We‘ll take juice and the rest of the pancakes, please,“ pleads Brynja.
“All right then.“ Theodóra gives in. It's sometimes easiest just to let Brynja have her way, and besides, it's fun to walk about town with her. Brynja knows all kinds of fun places and something always happens when she is around.
They pack their things and Brynja rolls up her blanket. Theodóra runs upstairs to change and to get permission from her parents. When she return, Brynja is waiting by the door, the blanket is tied on a backpack and Guðrún, the doll, sitting in a side pocket. Theodóra hesitates. Is Brynja really going to bring the doll? Theodóra does not like that. She does not play with dolls anymore, and she certainly does not want to be seen with such a childish thing. It would perhaps be all right at home in the village, but not here, in the city.
“Listen, Brynja. Do we have to bring the doll?“ asks Theodóra and brushes invisible lint of her white sweater.
“I want to bring her. Is that a problem?“ answers Brynja and ties her hair in a ponytail.
“I guess not,“ mumbles Theodóra. She thinks it's embarrassing to bring the doll, even though Steinunn, her own old doll, still has pride of place on her pillow. But she would rather not admit that to Brynja.
There are few pedestrians on Laugarvegur, the main shopping street, and the park is almost deserted. They find a sheltered small hollow, but it's still a bit cold, so they have fun doing cartwheels and playing catch to keep warm. They are red cheeked and warm when they sit down to their picnic. Guðrún sits between them, but Theodóra tries to ignore the doll. She feels like the big doll eyes follow her every movement. But when she looks directly at the doll, it just sits there, smiling its eternal, immobile smile.
Brynja and Theodóra have a lot to talk about. Theodóra describes the village, the kids at home and her new friend Olivia. Brynja tells stories from the dancing world, of Jón and the endless rehearsals, of good friends, tedious contestants, pompous judges and hostile parents. “Just imagine, one of the moms kept calling me the little ghost child, just because I'm a bit pale! Thankfully both makeup and artificial tanning are forbidden in my age group.“ Brynja shudders.
“Didn‘t that make you sad?“ asks Theodóra astonished. She had not imagined that Brynja’s world of competitive dance, which she has always admired from a distance, was so tough.
Brynja reflects for a moment. “No, not really,“ she answers. “I just became even more focused on winning. I have learned not to care what others think. I am teased quite a lot and Jón is mocked even more than me. But you cannot do anything if you keep worrying about the opinion of others.“
Theodóra nods and casts a sheepish glance to the doll. They sit quiet for a moment and watch the pond. Two aeroplanes fly over, on their way to landing. The later one seems to fly extraordinarily low, just above the seagulls that keep flying and screaming undisturbed.
Theodóra leans back onto the blanket and closes her eyes. She listens to the wind in the trees and the muffled sounds of the city from the distance. But she is not allowed to rest for long.
,, Thedóra, look! “ Brynja points enthusiastically towards Hljómskálinn, a small octagonal house at the edge of the park. A big van with colourful markings is backing up to the building.
“What should I see?“ asks Theodóra. She is not interested in cars, and does not think Brynja is either.
“Come on! “ Brynja jumps up, shoves the lunchbox and the water bottles into the backpack and rolls up the blanket. They are running across the lawn before Theodóra realises what is happening.
When they arrive, the van is being unloaded and girls their age are arriving from all directions.
Brynja runs to a bearded long haired man that smiles and put down his burden.
“There you are, little Brynja. And this must be your friend, the songbird. “ He shakes hands with the astonished Theodóra. “Hello and welcome. Just follow the other girls inside, you will be received there."
Theodóra is frozen in her steps. “What is he talking about? “ she whispers to Brynja.
“He is recording a TV show and he needs some girls to sing. I know him; he has been making a documentary about the Icelandic competitors in Blackpool. He asked me, but I told him about you. You are such a great singer, you read music and everything. “
“But I don't know the song,“ protests Theodóra.
“The others don't know it either. You will learn it together,“ says Brynja and smiles reassuringly.
“But Brynja, I‘m not ready. Did you see the other girls, how well they are dressed? I‘m covered in grass and my hair is a mess. “ Theodóra is close to tears.
Brynja hugs her friend. “I'm sorry Theodóra. I got you parents' permission, but I should have told you. I just wanted to surprise you. I guess it wasn't such a good idea.” Brynja pulls Guðrún, her doll, from the backpack. “You can do this, Theodóra. Don't let anyone disturb you. Just be the little ghost child. “
“The ghost what? “ asks Theodóra.
“You know. The little ghost child. The one that is perhaps not as glamorous as the others, but wins anyway. “ Brynja holds out the doll. “I'll lend you Guðrún. I know you don't like her much, but she has always brought me luck, ever since my first competition. “
Theodóra reluctantly accepts the doll. It feels surprisingly warm to the touch, even hot, and it suddenly seems to wink. But that cannot be, Theodóra thinks to herself. Dolls do not wink.
Theodóra walks slowly through the door with Brynja by her side. Somebody asks her name, Brynja produces a wrinkled sheet of paper and Theodóra glances her father’s signature. She tries to brush some of the grass off her sweater as she plods up the stairs. Well dressed girls with perfect hair run past her, laughing and talking. ”This is ridiculous,” she thinks and slows down, almost to a halt. “You are,” somebody whispers, right beside her. “You are.”
“What do you mean Brynja? I am what?” asks Theodóra annoyed.
“I didn’t say anything,” answers Brynja calmly. ”Come on, snails move faster than you.”
“You are…You are…” There it was again. Whispered, just audibly and so close that it's as if she is saying it herself. Theodóra looks down to the doll. Did she wink?
The other girls are grouped together in the middle of the group. Theodóra approaches hesitantly. They are warming up their voices and Theodóra joins in. This, at least, she knows.
“Who wants to try the solo?” asks the director and almost all hands fly into the air. Not Theodóra's. She does not want to bring unnecessary attention to herself. But a strange warmth is creeping up her left arm. The heat increases, and the arm raises itself slowly. It raises the doll as high at it can reach and waives it, like a flag. Theodóra hears the girls giggle all around her. “She has a doll…is she five or what…how lame…” But the murmur quiets down, when the conductor calls out: “You there, with the doll, come here.” Theodóra is frozen in her steps and the giggling starts again: “She?...who is she anyway?...she has grass in her hair…” But through it all she hears the whispering voice ”you are…you are…whoever you like to be.” and she feels how she gets warm inside. Theodóra straightens up and walks towards the conductor. She is going to show these girls what she is capable of.
The conductor plays the first chord and the girls sing. Theodóra holds Guðrún tight and lets the beautiful song take over. “We sing for the ocean, for the seals on the sandbanks...“.
The conductor signals and Theodóra sings the solo “I sing for the children that dream on the water, I sing for hope of the fisherman's daughter.” The high note is unstrained and pure, and she finishes without hesitation. The girls around her smile. Theyjoin in “We sing for the ocean...” but Theodóra sings just for Brynja, who sits beside the bearded director and smiles her radiant smile.
The Icelandic Knitter@Harpa Jónsdóttir 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this story, text, photographs or illustrations may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means or by any way without written permission obtained before hand from the author.
Harpa Jonsdóttir is a child author. She has published a few books, among them “Ferðin til Samiraka” (the trip to Samiraka) that won the Icelandic Children’s Book Award in 2002 in Iceland. She is also a knitter and embellish her knits beautifully. Those two centers of interest seem to work nicely together: to know how, read the interview with Harpa, "When knitting and writing spin together" in the issue 03 of The Icelandic Knitter's magazine.
Harpa's blog: harpaj.net