Icelandic Sunset

This story is part of Fiction Month 2020. Click here to view the stories featured this Fiction Month, as well as past fiction pieces. 

Kelly did her roots herself. She took a bottle of red dye from under the sink, wrapped her hands carefully in two pieces of cling wrap, and deftly covered her half inch of grey hair in cherry red. When she was finished, her hands looked like two bloody hands in a body bag. Even her skin looked somehow less-alive than it should. It looked bloodless. She felt that she was applying redder, younger blood to her body rather than hair dye. 

She sat on the toilet seat to wait for the dye to set, and while she did she ran a bath to soak her feet in. She poured in mint bath salts. She thumbed through a magazine. There was a spread about women before and after plastic surgery. When the dye was set she drained the foot bath and stepped into the shower. She watched the red dye run down her body and drain away. She dried off.

She put six different necklaces on, one after the other. They curled around her neck like thin bright snakes. She put on perfume out of a purple bottle. She put on an orange dress. She ordered a taxi.

The woman who drove the taxi was thin but massive. Her shoulders stuck out on either side of the headrest. Her hair was shiny and smooth and fell all the way to Kelly’s knees when she sat in the backseat. She spoke in the softest and most musical voice Kelly had heard before. As they pulled onto the freeway the driver answered a phone call. She was talking about some sort of charity work. The cellphone looked tiny in her huge and bony hand. Kelly wondered why on earth the woman helped with charities when she was so unnaturally large and when she drove a taxi. She got out of the car in front of a bar. 

She ordered a drink with a slice of orange floating in it like a tooth in saltwater. A man at the bar watched the lottery on the television, a man at the bar watched football on the television, a man at the bar sat under a plastic crab that was perched on the ceiling like a giant spider and put his head in his hands. 

She finished her drinks quickly. She slipped her necklaces up and down her neck. Her nails were heavy with polish. She rubbed the condensation on the outside of her glass. She drew little stars on it. The televisions were muted and no song played in the bar. The bartender flitted around behind the bar in a long white coat. He poured the drinks. A man was looking at her from the corner of the bar, drinking a blue drink and staring at her. He had a ratty little dog on the end of a leash who sat on his foot under the table. 

She got off her stool, a bit dizzy, and walked over to the man, taking a seat beside him in the booth. He gave her an orange cigarette. When he lit it, his lighter emitted a tune. They smoked their orange cigarettes. She noticed in the mirror that a bit of red dye must have fallen on her shoulder during application and left a red shape on her like a birthmark. The man had startlingly blue eyes. He looked slightly younger than her. His dog had risen to sniff her ankles.

The man gestured to one of the televisions. It was a commercial for delivery diet meals in plastic packaging. They watched it together. There were chocolate muffins, veggie burgers, and protein powder to be added to water. 

“You know,” said the man with the little dog, “They’re selling that stuff because they made too much for the astronauts. The astronauts didn’t eat all the packaged food, so they made up this diet scheme so people would buy it and get it off their hands.” He leaned close to her. “Do you want to know what the astronauts are really good at?” 

She nodded.

“Marketing!” he said.

She watched the commercial. She wondered if the food had already been to space. If so, she thought, the advertisers would do better including the information. She thought she would enjoy any food more if she knew it had been all the way to space and back, if she knew it had experienced zero gravity, and pressed against the seams of its plastic packaging – 

The man was tipping a bit of his blue drink into her drained glass on top of the soggy slice of orange. “An Icelandic Sunset,” he said. She sipped. 

He asked her what she did for a living. She explained that she was the head of events for a large energy company in the city. She took her job very seriously. Last May she had organized tickets for everyone at the office to go and see the concert of a young man who was regularly on the radio. It had been in a huge stadium, and a young man who was regularly on the radio had performed. He’d had twelve back-up dancers, and two huge screens beside him so the audience could see his face very clearly. His skin had been immaculate. She wasn’t sure, though, she confessed, what to do this year. She was afraid another concert could only exist in the shadow of this previous one. 

The dog started to bark. “She needs a bit of fresh air, I think,” the man said.

They finished their drinks and went outside. The evening was warm. The air smelled of gasoline. They walked up the broken sidewalk. Her dress was slightly tight. The dog pulled on its collar and wheezed. Lit billboards glared at them like surgeon lamps. They walked down steps into an alley of stores closed for the night. The man stopped at a shop window. A spotlight shone on a pink porcelain piggy bank. The pig had big blue painted eyes and a wide grin, and two small faces on each of its front hooves. These faces smiled as well. On the pig’s back was a wide slot for coins and bills. She thought the rounded, swollen belly could hold quite a lot of money. 

The man leaned against the glass, so that his cheek flattened out. He beckoned for her to do the same. They looked together for a minute, and then he said, “That, my friend, is the fountain of youth.”

Anna Winslow is a BA HAST student at Bard College Berlin. She likes to write. This story is inspired by her passion for hair dye.

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