Urban Volcano

Fiction by Börkur Sigurbjörnsson

Flash fiction

Small Talk

Other formats: PDF | íslenska

Small talk — Illustration by Börkur Sigurbjörnsson
Illustration by Börkur Sigurbjörnsson

I stood by the window and looked out as I sipped the thin coffee. Outside there was a snowstorm raging. Everything was white. I turned around and looked over the room. Some people were sitting down while others stood upright. Everyone was sipping their coffees and either looked down into their cup or into the air without saying anything. I felt this party was missing some small talk—something to liven up the atmosphere. Yet, I couldn’t think of a subject that might raise the interest of people around here.

What was I doing here? That was easy to answer. I was learning to write poetry—in a course I had been given as a Christmas present by my parents. But what was I doing HERE? What was I doing in a community center in the rural part of Iceland in the middle of January? What was a high school student from Reykjavík doing at a poetry course with middle-aged farmers? Middle-aged was a flattering choice of phrasing in this context. What was the city-slicker doing in the countryside?

The course was actually good. It was working from the point of view my parents had intended. They had had enough of their son’s contemporary poetry style that completely disregarded the rich Icelandic poetry heritage and wanted him to get to know the traditional structure and form. The heritage was definitely to be found in this countryside community center with post-middle-aged poetry loving farmers in a January snowstorm. To my surprise, I was enjoying myself and learning quite a lot.

The poems resulting form this course were diverse. I wrote under the influence from Lord Byron and Rousseau. The farmers wrote under the influence from Birgir the ram and Sólveig the sheep. Maybe I was exaggerating a bit the cultural difference between myself and the farmers. Over lunch I had learned that on a farm nearby, Hegel and Kierkegaard were chewing hay side by side and Augusta Ada Lovelace Byron had given birth to three lambs last summer. Despite my prejudgement, the farmers were no less knowledgeable of the classics than I was—on the contrary in some cases.

We were maybe not as different as I had imagined—the farmers and I. Weren’t we connecting with each other through the poetry? Who knew if I could maybe make some coffee-break small talk around here? There had to be something I could think of saying. A couple of farmers had been talking about snow coverage a few moments ago. Now they were silent—like myself—staring into the blizzard raging outside. Wasn’t that it? I could make a comment about how strong it was blowing today. Something like that. It would no doubt be a successful conversation starter around here.

“I guess this is what they call a snowstorm in Reykjavík,” commented one of the farmers before I had been able to put my thought into words.

The other farmers laughed and then returned to their silence. I settled for an awkward smile. Maybe I wasn’t ready yet to make small talk in this crowd.

Börkur is an avid storyteller with a keen eye for quirky characters, funny dialogs and vivid scenario descriptions. Much of his writing falls within the genre of realistic fiction and his stories are more often than not based on real events in the author’s life. Although the tales contain grains of truth, they are melded with fiction, making the reader curious to know the line between reality and fantasy.