October, 2016 – Ann Arbor, Michigan
Robert Owen Co-Op is a three-story Victorian home that was built in the early 1890s by a college professor at the University of Michigan. During World War Two it fell into the hands of a group of radical students enamored of British socialism and the Cooperative Movement, and has been with them and their ideological descendants ever since.
Evidence would seem to indicate that the “cooperative model” has worked well here; the house is arguably better maintained than similar homes belonging to the major landlords in Ann Arbor, and the students have been cooking for each other for three-quarters of a century without all dying of food poisoning.
The house is painted white with green trim and has a lovely huge round front porch where off-duty students sit when the evenings are warm enough to have a drink, a smoke, and maybe a chat.
Rick and Tamara are sitting on the porch in just that kind of state when a guy of approximately Rick’s age, but who somehow does not seem very much like a student, stops on the sidewalk in front of the house. The young man is dressed normally, except that the black cap he’s wearing looks a little unusual and his battered Army boots look about three sizes too large. But when he looks around as though trying to get his bearings, the man’s body-language fairly screams foreigner!
It’s not at all unusual to see foreigners this near the university, but it is unusual to see one who appears to be lost.
As the guy looks around, his gaze lights on Rick and Tamara in their seats on the porch. He turns toward them hesitantly, takes a halting step, pauses to snatch the cap off his head, then smiles and comes striding up the sidewalk. There’s nothing particularly scary about him—he’s normal-sized and on the slender side. But an unexpected guest was not in Rick’s plans for the evening.
“Oh, terrific,” Rick says.
“Hey, he’s just lost,” Tamara judges. She smiles back at the young man as he approaches.
Rick shoots a quick sideways glance at Tamara, grimaces, and takes a good belt from his drink. As the guy walks up, literally hat-in-hand, it does not escape Rick’s attention that he is pretty good looking, in a scruffy kind of way. This fact clearly has not escaped Tamara’s attention either.
“Hello,” the guy says, coming to a halt a few steps away, “I am name Yonar! Do you know Ymir? My cousin, him, I am looking for. He is living here, I am thinking.”
“Here? In this house?” Tamara sits up straight on the porch swing.
Rick notes that she suddenly has her full game face on.
The young man apparently takes a moment to parse what she has said, then his face breaks into a brilliant smile.
“Oh no, he is living here in Ann Arbor, I am thinking.”
“Oh, OK!” Tamara smiles. “Do you have his number?”
The man’s face falls. “No, no. I didn’t thinking, until I am coming here.” With a look of something like mild terror on his face, the guy gestures toward the neighboring houses. “Everything so big! So many peoples!”
“Oh, where are you from?”
The young man smiles engagingly. “Hafnarfirdish,” he answers. Then, seeing the look on Tamara’s face, his smile falters again and he adds quickly. “Close by on Reykjavik, there.”
“Um—” Tamara glances at Rick.
“Reykjavik—Iceland?” Rick asks the guy. “Is that where you’re from?”
“Yaw,” says the guy on the sidewalk who doesn’t look like a student, as he takes another half-step forward and grins happily again. “Eeslant.”
“Oh my god! You’re from Iceland? Oh that’s so cool!”
“Literally,” Rick mutters into his drink. And if those are the boots you wear while you’re climbing on glaciers, he thinks, then I just came down from the Moon. But he knows better than to say anything snide or skeptical. Tamara is absolutely never friendly with any of the boys who happen to be her housemates. Well, friendly enough for a drink and a smoke on the porch occasionally—that’s about it. But woe betide any housemate who dares cast aspersions on one of the young men that she brings home. Or, in this case, one that she doesn’t even have to go out of her way to find.
“Well, we can look his number up for you,” she volunteers. “What’s his last name?”
Again, the young man’s cheerful expression disappears.
“My cousin Ymir, he is Nori’s son.”
Tamara looks at him.
“Then—what’s Nori’s last name?” she asks.
The young man shakes his head uncertainly.
“Oh crap,” Rick says. “Yeah, I remember this. They don’t really have family names like we do. They just use patronymics. We would call the guy ‘Ymir Norison’. But he might just go by Ymir, or even switch to his mother’s name as a surname if his dad pissed him off. “This guy thinks—”
Rick breaks off, realizing that it would be rude to speak of the guy in the third person.
“Buddy,” Rick says, “you thought you could just come here and ask anyone, and they would know your cousin, right?”
“Yaw, yaw!” the guy nods vigorously. “You know? Ymir, Nori’s son?”
“Buddy—there’s one hundred and twenty thousand people in Ann Arbor. In this county—Washtenaw County—there’s three hundred and fifty thousand.” Rick watches as the guy figures out the numbers, and his eyes widen. Real or not, the guy is good at it.
“That is how many peoples,” he says in a small voice, “in all of Eeslant.”
“Yeah,” Rick smiles. “All of Iceland. Same as Washtenaw County, Michigan. You get it? And if he moved out of this county, like over to Detroit to get a job maybe? That county has, like, two million people, maybe. Seven times Iceland. OK?”
The guy looks at Rick with the best sad-puppy forlorn expression Rick has ever seen.
“I never am finding Ymir,” he says in a small voice.
“Oh my god. Oh my god,” Tamara whispers as she understands the magnitude of the error in judgment that poor good-looking Yonar has made, his mind disarranged after having just fallen off the whaling boat that brought him from distant Havesomeofthis, Iceland.
“Well,” she speaks up, “we can still help you! Would you like something to eat? Then we can figure out what to do.”
At the word ‘eat’, poor slender Yonar’s eyes flick instantly toward Tamara, and then down again in shame.
“No,” he shakes his head. “I have no monies left now, since the traveling.”
Tamara, already halfway into Maternal Protective Mode, now turns it up to eleven.
“Who cares about money?” she says angrily.
People who don’t have it? Rick thinks.
“When was the last time you ate?” Tamara demands, leaning further forward in her chair.
The Sad Little Lost Icelandic Boy looks down at his non-glacier-ready boots. “Since three days,” he says.
“Oh my god! You haven’t eaten since Thursday?”
Yonar looks up and apparently needs to think about that for a moment. “Yaw,” he says after a moment, grinning again. “Thor’s Day.”
“Oh my god! That’s terrible!”
After the Collapse, any family that managed to save any significant amount of wealth in a form that did not simply evaporate when the banks and pension plans were going under is now very well off indeed. It’s a safe bet that, since Tamara’s family is apparently still able to send her to a top-line school like the University of Michigan, she comes from an environment in which the concept of missing a meal—let alone several days’ worth of meals—is as incomprehensible to her as Freshman Calculus.
Fairly leaping from her seat and stomping down the short stairway to the sidewalk, Tamara lays hold of the Sad Lost Boy by his shoulder and marches him right up onto the porch toward the front door.
“Come on,” she commands. “You need a good hot meal right now.”
A step before they pass through the front door, the Lost Icelandic Boy shoots a quick glance at Rick, where he remains unmoved on the porch swing. Just before passing out of sight through the front door, the guy grins.
After a moment’s thought, Rick sighs, finishes his drink, and looks out across Oakland Avenue at the other aging houses and apartment buildings of this quiet, residential neighborhood.
It’s a nice, warm day—maybe the last of the season. But you can kind of feel the fact that way up there, high above the clear evening sky, the cold of winter is lurking, and waiting to come back down.
Rick wonders if, stirred up and cast adrift by the approach of winter, any other strange creatures will wash up on the shore of his front porch this evening. Leaning forward to pick up his wine bottle from the porch, he empties the rest of it into his glass.
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