Ice Breaker

He looks west to where the clearing should be but the horizon is gone, swallowed by snow. The ship’s iron hull, forty-eight millimeters thick, groans against the fresh ice. He cups his hands together and blows into them, then straightens his sunglasses.

The south-west passage should be open – it’s usually open – even this early in the season. And the Halvljus has opened this very route dozens of times before. Palms sliding down his gray-blonde beard, he recalls the first time he made the trip, as second navigator, seventeen years before. It was the peak of the oil crisis, and the ship’s radio was tuned to the state broadcasting service every morning for scratchy snippets of the latest news.

Now Ryuikssen comes with news of the Finnish breaker, Kontio, sent to pull them out. She’s delayed south of Negerpynten; running too light, it seems.

“And what about Andres?” he asks.

“Fine,” Ryuikssen says. “In quarters, recovering.”

“And the girl.”

Ryuikssen looks down. His blonde hair is thinning at the top and his lips are chapped to white.

“I don’t know,” he says. “She’s talking but no one understands.”

The captain of the Halvljus turns his head, cracks his neck to the right, then the left, heaves his chest and sighs. Three weeks ago he left Maarit and the baby in Luleå. It had been early morning when they went out, and from the pier he could see the cathedral spire covered in frost; the city beginning to light up behind it. The baby was wrapped up so tightly only her face showed, and Maarit, her hair pulled back, looked upset.

He didn’t know what was wrong. He thought to ask her in the car on the way over, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. Instead he stared out the window, watched the refinery lights go by. When they reached security he gave her his badge to show the guard. In the side mirror he saw the baby’s pinched face and then reached behind awkwardly to hold her mitted hand.

“I’m pregnant,” Maarit said now, looking away, and then directly into his eyes. “I’m pregnant again.”


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