We called him Ísjaki. Few knew his real name. I certainly didn’t when I was charged with being his caretaker during his first visit to New York. Ísjaki meant “iceberg” in Iceland, where this man came from.
I wrote Ísjaki on a blank sheet of paper—careful to include the accent over the first I—and waited at JFK airport for the man to find me. I didn’t know what the man looked like; hardly any pictures of him existed, and the ones that did showed a figure covered head-to-toe in black garments: oversized black knit sweater, loose black pants, and black combat boots. He wore a black, logoless baseball cap; his face was wrapped in a dark gray scarf; and his eyes were covered by vintage leather-and-brass aviator goggles like a creature from a comic book. This hiddenness was very unlike other artists I had met, who were, in their majority, more than eager to be as recognizable in their own flesh as their artist fame allowed, even when most would never openly admit their need for attention.
I wasn’t an artist myself, but rather senior assistant in one of the most prestigious art galleries in New York. My job consisted in making sure the more lucrative artists the gallery represented were happy. I organized their whims and also those of Marisa, my boss, gallery owner and curator.
“Hello,” Ísjaki said in a rasp, like a shy cough, the first word he ever said to me. I had expected Ísjaki to be out of costume, but he wasn’t. He wore all black and wore his scarf, baseball cap, and goggles. Ísjaki must have had to dress up somewhere between immigration and meeting me. An immigration officer would not have allowed anyone to come into the U.S. without showing their face.
“Welcome to New York,” I said. I didn’t offer my hand, and he kept his hands down and close to his body. I would’ve felt awkward trying to handshake someone who might not like to be touched. I put my hand up instead, as if a tiny halt, and immediately regretted my ridiculous salutation. “I’m Augusto.”
The day the iceberg drifted into New York Bay, I wore my purple puffy jacket and yellow scarf. The contrast of colors made me feel hip, subtly hip, as if I didn’t care. I rode the R all the way down to 95th Street. I lived in Brooklyn but had never had a reason to ride that far down. Early arrivers, curious to see the iceberg that had made its way from the North Pole to New York, led me to the middle of the Verrazzano Bridge, where its cables dipped the lowest.
The chances that an intact iceberg would drift into our bay were so wild, statisticians and climate scientists shouted the odds in alarm and dizzy astonishment. “Zero point zero zero zero…” they recited sixteen times, until they reached the three and then the one. A chance of one in thirty-two quadrillion. “Never will this happen again,” they prophesied. I knew better. This occurrence was no fluke. The iceberg, in all its massiveness, had come to see me. Yes, me.
The iceberg’s peak rose high at the center of the bay, its massive bottom hidden inside the water’s muck. The sun’s light, new for the day and unencumbered by clouds, bounced off the iceberg’s finest points. Inside the iceberg’s deep crevasses, blue glowed—a neon heart. We all gasped at its stature—not as tall as the skyscrapers that stood behind us, but also not dwarfed by them, because the iceberg was ice and not man-made. Nature still pressed grand in our imaginations. People around me cheered and clapped, and some wept. A smaller peak rose on the iceberg’s left side, lopsided, as if the smaller peak were the iceberg’s hand and the iceberg raised it in awkward greeting. A thin layer of snow dust covered the iceberg’s juts like sweat. The iceberg was tired, traveling all the way from the North Pole.
The iceberg floated toward us, unimpeded. Panic arose when people thought it would crash into the bridge. They howled, screeched, and ran. A little girl fell, but before she got trampled, her father curled above her like a dome, a carapace that fought the hordes. No one fought for me. I didn’t run. I stayed, my body unwilling to move. The iceberg wouldn’t hurt me.
The iceberg did not crash into the bridge; it stopped just meters away from me. How gorgeous the iceberg’s watery body shone, so pristine, untouched. And the cold it produced! Moist, as if it licked me. I had never felt this cold, this crisp, or so alive. I stretched my hand, and the iceberg scuttled toward me, little by little, until it found my outstretched palm. A jolt struck me! A jolt akin to love, and I recoiled, startled, wonderstruck. This was indeed my iceberg. I reached for it again, and this time the iceberg’s wetness sucked my hand closer. I didn’t feel the strike of love this time, not love as overwhelming force, but tenderness instead. A much gentler feeling. “Hello, Ísjaki,” I said.
Ísjaki stood behind me while I checked him into the hotel in Chelsea, a boutique affair with only six rooms. Ísjaki seemed more shy than entitled, and even if he understood English well, I didn’t know how well he spoke it. Besides the initial “Hello,” Ísjaki had said nothing else, only nods.
Ísjaki drew on street walls, a kind of graffiti artist. He drew tiny tableaus one had to kneel on sidewalks to appreciate. First, he would cover a circle of about half a meter in diameter with white paint; then, with black markers of various thicknesses, he would draw scenes in which his main character, a traveling iceberg, visited cities around the world. His drawings had the quality of etchings, thin and thick lines crisscrossed in intricate textures that revealed his detailed scenes. The iceberg was also named Ísjaki. Ísjaki the artist had adopted the same name as his character because he claimed the artist was not important; his character was the one who was relevant, the one the world should know.
Ísjaki the iceberg had adventures all over the world. In the scene where Ísjaki travels to Paris, the iceberg floats on the Seine while a Parisian woman, in awe of its icebergness, has stolen Vermeer’s The Astronomer from the Louvre and has carried it to the banks of the river. The lone woman, wearing a hood and a scarf, wisps of hair blowing across her face, holds Vermeer’s painting while the iceberg observes, massive, from the river. The iceberg takes up most of the space in each scene, fat and jagged, happily observing the places it visits. Glimpses of the places pop out of the background. In Paris, the woman stands at the pinpoint of Île de la Cité—Pont Neuf sketched behind her.
This particular drawing of Paris was not in Paris but in Reykjavík, where all Ísjaki’s adventures were told. A person had to travel to Iceland to see these drawings scattered in a labyrinthian path through the city. But now, thanks to Marisa, a new Ísjaki adventure would be depicted in New York. The first of Ísjaki’s works outside Reykjavík.
“You’re checked in,” I said. “I’ll leave you so you can settle. We have a meeting at the gallery in a couple of hours. I can pick you up from here. You have my phone, yes?”
“Augusto?” Ísjaki pronounced my name closer to how a Spanish speaker would, each vowel openly expressed. I loved my name in his mouth. “Where do you live?”
“I must ask a favor.”
“May I go to your home?” His voice was low and kind, in the way a melody is kind. I’d never been asked any such thing by an artist. To the artists, I was more of a perk than a person.
“We can arrange a visit,” I said.
“I can’t now. I’m due back at the gallery.”
Ísjaki stepped closer. He was a head taller than me. If I stared directly ahead, I saw only his square chest looming, not unfriendly— no, protective, like a home I could nestle in. He leaned down to whisper: “I confess I don’t like hotels. Please, could I stay with you?”
To host an artist in my own apartment was not part of my job description, but keeping artists happy was. “You’d probably be more comfortable here. I don’t have a guest bedroom, only an old sofa bed.”
“That will be excellent. I will be most comfortable.”
We rode in the backseat of a taxi to East Williamsburg. Ísjaki stared out the window with his hand on his chin. A blond , almost white, curl popped from under his cap, right down his forehead. Would he mind if I pulled it—gently, of course—and let it spring back? Would he laugh? Slap me away?
I kept my hands on my lap.
The rest of the day was pandemonium. The iceberg followed me wherever I went, and in its excitement to be with me, it plowed the shallow waters of the bay, unearthing the ground below and sending tremors all around. I was prohibited to leave the Verrazzano Bridge. City officials, police, firefighters, the Coast Guard— along with random New Yorkers always willing to voice an opinion— conferred as to the best plans for me. The makeshift committee decided I was to be rappelled down from the bridge and boated to Staten Island’s shore until they came up with a better plan.
And so, I was rappelled down to a boat—a scary but very exciting endeavor—and then deposited on Staten Island’s eastern shore. The iceberg stayed close to me but did not threaten to ram into the bridge or the city again. A makeshift camp formed around me, with food trucks and bonfires, tents and lawn chairs, music and laughter. Strangers with smiles brought me a tent and a sleeping bag. The little girl, the one whose father had fought hordes to give her air, brought me chicken noodle soup.
Alone and exhausted from the day’s excitement, I huddled inside my borrowed tent while, behind me, the camp became uproariously alive. I observed my iceberg through a slit in the tent. Massive, my iceberg bobbed as if in deep sleep.
“Who do you love?” Ísjaki asked me as he set his large backpack on my sofa.
I had a ready-made list of contemporary artists I knew to rattle off like prayer—evocative names but ultimately meaningless because I didn’t enjoy any of their work. I decided not to recite any of the contemporary names. Ísjaki deserved better from me. Honesty. “I love one portrait by Ilya Repin. It’s of a Russian writer called Garshin.”
“I don’t know this work.”
“It’s from 1884. I’m sorry.”
“Why are you sorry?”
“I’m not a fan of contemporary art.” I opened cupboards at random to occupy my hands.
“Would you like some water? Wine?” I didn’t much know how to behave toward an unknown guest in my home. At the gallery, absolutely, but not where the artist could see I was a person, where Ísjaki could see my too-big TV, my nearly empty walls that showcased one drawing I myself drew and framed, my lack of matching dinnerware, two plants that I’d kept alive for more than six years—a hydrangea that did not bush out as much as I’d wanted, on account of it being in a pot, and a heartleaf philodendron whose vines hung down prettily from the top of my bookshelf.
“Water, please,” Ísjaki said, all covered in black and goggled, a thirsty apparition in my tiny living room. “Why do you love this portrait? Garshin, you said?”
“I love his eyes. They’re sad, almost despairing.”
“You love sad people.”
I paused to think. It was not often that someone dug into my thoughts. “He’s sad because he has all this frailty in him. Repin painted this frailty. And I don’t know how he managed it. Garshin looks as if he can’t figure out how not to break.”
Ísjaki hummed in approval. That last bit I said sounded good, the words just rolled out my mouth, and I felt myself a poet, if only for a moment. I handed a glass of water to Ísjaki. He pried open the folds of his scarf enough to reveal his lips. His lips had no hint of color. They were white— not pale, but white like egg whites.
“How do you not break?” Ísjaki asked.
I took tiny sips of my own water. Each sip a delay until I cohered my thoughts. I had set a high bar—high-ish, at least. Nothing poetic or deep came to mind. “I keep myself busy. I have friends. I read. I go to the movies.”
“You distract yourself.”
“What else can one do?” I giggled. “I’ll have a little wine. Are you sure you don’t want some?”
“If you insist. Yes. Thank you.”
Ísjaki sat on the couch, feet together, hands on his lap. I poured us wine.
“Who loves you?” Ísjaki asked after his first sip.
“Oh, I have no fans. I’m not an artist. You’ll soon have a lot of fans, with your first big New York show. Everyone will love you.”
“I don’t mean fans. Who loves you, Augusto?” He said my name again, separating the A from the u, each vowel guttural and sensual.
“And your family.”
“I don’t have a family.”
“How do you know?”
“Because my parents died years ago and I have no siblings.”
“I’m sorry. I meant: How do you know those who love you love you? ”
“They tell me.” I gulped half my wine. I had friends. Aoi, my best one. I loved Aoi, and she loved me, I was pretty sure.
Ísjaki took off his goggles. The skin around his eyes and eyelids, like his lips, was sheet-of-paper white. In stark contrast, his eyes were dark. They showed no shade of color: not brown, not blue, just black. A crystalline black, so polished and aqueous they glowed. His eyebrows were thick and blondish-white.
“I love you,” Ísjaki said. “Do you believe I love you?”
“No.” But I did. A little bit. More hope than belief, I suppose.
“I just told you I love you.”
“You don’t know me.”
“So how do you know when someone does love you?”
“I feel it.”
“On your skin?”
“On my skin sometimes. In my mood. I’m happier around those who love me. My friends like to spend time with me.”
“I’m enjoying my time with you,” Isjaki said, slid his gloves off, and took my right hand between his. I tried to wriggle it away. His touch was a jolt that scared me, so sharp and icy I tasted metal, like being electrocuted.
“Let me hold your hand. Please, Augusto.”
I didn’t struggle anymore. Ísjaki’s hands were coarse and heavy. Ísjaki did not cup his hands in order to make the least amount of contact, but rather held them flat, covering all of mine. Ísjaki rubbed his thumb in loops against the back of my hand. Anxiety—terror, really—felt like the correct reaction, but I couldn’t summon fear. My skin woke up, remembering what touch felt like. A cloud left the sun. The room became brighter. Was I warmer? My skin became tongues, wet, alert, savoring Ísjaki’s hand and the light’s heat that hadn’t been there a minute ago. I hadn’t been touched with abandon in quite a while. I held Ísjaki’s moist black stare, as if our eyes, too, embraced each other.
When I snapped back to my apartment, my hand wasn’t in Ísjaki’s anymore, but his touch remained a phantom, chafed and giddy. Ísjaki put his goggles back on, said “Skál,” and downed the rest of his wine.
The iceberg earned the attention of scientists, reporters, environmentalists, the curious, and the fanatic. The first day, I was swarmed. The reporters wanted to know how I was controlling the iceberg. They asked if I was a magician, a new breed of illusionist. They asked if I was a con artist. They asked if I believed myself a holy man. I wasn’t any of those things. Scientists studied the currents, dove deep to see why the iceberg didn’t drift away, why it seemed to follow me. The iceberg was stuck in the bottom of the bay, some scientists believed, sunk in the bay’s silt. Confluent currents kept it in place, other scientists argued. None argued that the iceberg stayed because of me. Environmentalists, the supportive ones, saw me as an activist trying to raise awareness. The antagonistic ones accused me of exploiting the iceberg, taking it out of its natural habitat for my own personal fame. My devotees, a small but fervent group, saw me as divine, a spirit sent to guide them, as I had guided the iceberg to me.
I was not divine, and I hadn’t summoned the iceberg—it had come to visit me.
The shore by the camp wasn’t the prettiest. It was rocky and grassy only in patches. It was also dirty: most of the rocks on the ground were not rocks but chunks of concrete. There were short lengths of steel and assorted trash trapped among the larger debris. I walked south, past the mess and the people who had too many questions, and made my way into a cleaner and all-around prettier sandy stretch. The iceberg followed me. A chill grazed my ears, as if the iceberg were blowing whispers on me. I untangled my yellow scarf I’d been wearing like a hood and let my iceberg caress my face with its cold.
Marisa had scouted the perfect walls and chosen five locations for Ísjaki’s new drawing: two in Long Island City in the vicinity of P.S.1, two in Bushwick, and one in Crown Heights. All areas where the hip would appreciate Ísjaki’s art, where they would Instagram and tweet it. Obviously, this new scene would be of Ísjaki the iceberg visiting New York. The iceberg had not visited New York yet.
“Augusto will be glad to take you to these locations, if you wish to see them in person,” Marisa said at the gallery. It was the morning of Ísjaki’s second day in New York and three days before the show’s opening. This meeting should’ve taken place the day before, but Ísjaki had been tired from his travels and had asked to postpone. Ísjaki and I stayed in my apartment, ordered Chinese, and watched bad horror movies.
“I choose my own locations,” Ísjaki said.
“Right. But we want your art to linger, don’t we?” Marisa said. “We’re able to secure rights to these walls.”
“We can make sure no one will paint over your work.”
“The reason I draw outside is because my drawings are meant to be ephemeral. To last only what they should last. I claim no ownership once they’re done.”
Marisa’s face tightened. She did not blink. “Okay. Choose a wall you like, and we’ll discuss. But I’ll need to confirm a location tonight.”
“I’ll decide by tomorrow,” Ísjaki said, wrapped in his scarf, cap, and goggles.
“Very well. Tomorrow morning. The drawing has to be done before the show on Friday. I’ll be taking a select group of people to the location before the show. I need to arrange transport, media. You understand. Now, let me walk you through how we’ve set up the show here.”
Ísjaki and I followed Marisa through the tall white passages of the gallery. On the walls, projected videos showed images of Ísjaki’s drawings. The videos were meant to resemble the point of view of a person walking the streets of Reykjavík as they encountered Ísjaki’s work.
“We talked about large-format photographs,” Marisa explained. “But you were right, Ísjaki: they do not convey the full experience of encountering your work. We’ve succeeded, I believe, in bringing the best experience for your work with video.”
“Augusto, what do you think?” Ísjaki asked.
“I think video is a wonderful way to showcase your work,” I said, thoughtful, as if I’d planned the exhibition myself. “Video feels more natural for your purposes.”
“I agree,” said Ísjaki. “I will have to change the order of some of these videos, however.”
“That should be easy enough,” Marisa said. “Aoi, our tech person, will be here in thirty minutes. I must leave you. I’m running late already.”
Marisa pulled me aside. “Augusto, Ísjaki needs to pick a wall. The show here is mere frivolity; what we really want is to have his first drawing outside Iceland. Make sure you steer him into one of the walls we’ve pre selected. Ciao.”
Aoi made all the changes Ísjaki requested in under an hour. She had coded a program that allowed her to control each projector’s feed from her laptop.
“Will you please do a final walk? Tell me what you think,” Ísjaki said.
“Me?” I asked.
“Both of you.”
I walked with Aoi.
“I love his work so much,” Aoi whispered.
A certain pride swelled up in me, as if Aoi had complimented something of mine. I also felt jealous—liking Ísjaki’s work was an intimacy I believed only I should have access to.
“Me too,” I said.
I seldom paid close attention to the art we showed. But I paid close attention to his work. Ísjaki evidently loved his iceberg. Each jut was delicately rendered, a landscape Ísjaki knew very well, for if one looked closely, one recognized the same juts, the same peaks, the same terrain, from drawing to drawing. Only someone who loved something deeply could know it so well. Ísjaki also portrayed the awe, surprise, and absolute wonder of the people who encountered the iceberg. In a scene set in Rio, a man rows a boat to the iceberg. Awestruck, he’s on the verge of capsizing just to be able to touch it.
The iceberg traveled the world to have minute encounters, minute moments of connection. How melancholy! How could a drawing of ice make me this wistful?
Ísajki, Aoi, and I had lunch at my favorite Indian place.
“Are you friends?” Ísjaki asked.
“Yes. Gusto is my bestie,” Aoi said in her ever-enthusiastic voice.
“He’s kind and hilarious.”
“Do you love him?”
“Fuck yeah.” Aoi patted me on the back. “He’s the one cool person working in art. Artists included.”
“You don’t enjoy art?”
“I do. There’s rad shit these days. Not in New York.”
“Who do you love, Aoi?” Ísjaki asked. “Apart from Augusto.”
Aoi rattled off the names of contemporary artists I was familiar with but couldn’t quite fully summon. Their work floated as blurred phantoms. Ísjaki knew most of these artists, and he and Aoi agreed on who was good and who were hacks. Ísjaki declared he loved Japan. How inspired he was by contemporary Japanese art, the borderless fusion of pop, whimsy, and creation. Aoi mentioned a couple of artists whom she personally knew, albeit tangentially, from her days in Tokyo, before she’d come to New York. Ísjaki’s voice grew in enthusiasm. I thought of interjecting, not to disagree, but to shift the conversation away from Japan to Mexico, where I was from. But I was too ignorant to have contributed anything meaningful. Instead, I stopped paying attention to their words. I was content to observe Ísjaki’s barely uncovered lips move. He talked only to Aoi. I concentrated my stare on his goggles, willing them to turn to me, to remember I was there.
“Augusto is my friend, too,” Ísjaki said.
I snapped back to his words once I heard my name.
“Oh!” Aoi’s eyes went wide. “You met before?”
“No. But we watched movies together yesterday. We had fun. I like Augusto. I think he likes me, too.”
“I do,” I said.
I picked at my dal, but I was satisfied, full, full, full.
Ísjaki refused to scout walls. He said he’d chosen the perfect wall already, but he couldn’t tell anyone just yet. Not even me. He wanted his work to be found, not given. Marisa was not going to be happy, and she’d blame me, but I didn’t want to pressure Ísjaki. His drawings were his; he had a right to show them however and wherever he wanted.
We stayed the rest of the day in my apartment, with wine and burritos. Ísjaki removed his goggles but would not remove his scarf or cap. I ached to see his face but dared not ask him. Ísjaki loved horror movies above other genres. He loved the immediacy of horror, its unhiddenness of emotion, its absolute earnestness.
I got scared easily and laughed immediately after each time I screamed. Ísjaki laughed too, amused at my skittishness. At one point, after one of my largest exclamations, when the monstrous ghost of a child appeared in a mirror, Ísjaki petted my shoulder. “You’re okay,” he said. I let my head fall onto Ísjaki’s chest. Ísjaki did not retract. I made my breaths as small as I could so as not to make Ísjaki shift away.
“May I see your face?” I asked when the horror of the movie let up for a moment.
Ísjaki retreated away from me, took the remote, and paused the movie.
“Only my mother, my sister, and my closest friends know me as both Ísjaki and my other.”
“Who’s your other?”
“I like that name.”
“Not to me.”
“May I show you my back first?” Without waiting for an answer, Ísjaki turned his back to me and lifted his black knit sweater to reveal his back. His back was broad and even whiter—if that was possible—than the skin I had known around his eyes and lips. Brown moles sprinkled around his jutting scapulae. I dared touch one of the moles with the tip of my pointer finger, then I connected each mole across Ísjaki’s back as if charting constellations.
“Does it disgust you?” Ísjaki said.
“Why would it?”
“I have no color. I was made in black and white.”
“Like your drawings.”
“They’re beautiful too.”
Ísjaki pulled down his T-shirt and sweater and faced me. His eyes shone blacker and brighter, as if he was, for the first time, nervous. He took off his black baseball cap and handed me the end of his scarf. I took the scarf and unraveled it from his head, savoring each loop, each fold that revealed an inch more skin. Ísjaki’s face was thin, his jaw marked and hairless, his lips thin, his nose long, his eyes dark and big, made even bigger by the fact that his eyebrows were so pale it was as if he had none at all. The overall effect of his face was unsettling. I had never seen a face like his before. I loved it more for its newness.
“May I kiss you?” As I asked this, my spirit escaped my body. I had shocked my own spirit away by the nerve of my question. I had never been as bold, never as sure or as reckless. However, I managed the question without a stutter or a whisper.
I placed my hand on his cheek, then I leaned in and kissed him. I held the back of his head, his soft neck hairs tickling, mischievous, against my hand. I pressed my lips on his, playing his tongue with mine. His mouth was soft and his tongue friendly. I scooted closer, making sure I kept my lips on his. He leaned back, and I let myself fall on him. I ruffled his large blond curls two-handed. I stretched his cheeks with my thumbs. I placed my hands on his chest and searched for his nipples, eager, like a pirate close to treasure. Ísjaki held me in a light embrace. The very tips of his fingers drew circles on my back. I didn’t want to, but if I was to take my T-shirt off I had to briefly disconnect from his lips and half sit up. This was a mistake. As soon as our lips left each other, Ísjaki pushed himself up and stood.
I froze mid-crawl, like a raccoon caught mid-raid. He reached his hand down to my cheek, and I pressed my face to it. “That was nice,” he said.
I wanted so much to keep kissing him that I couldn’t form words.
Ísjaki drank the rest of his wine and sat at the edge of the couch. “You remind me of Rembrandt.”
I still couldn’t utter words.
“Self-portrait with beret, wide-eyed. You need a beret.” He squinted, as if he were trying to picture a beret on me. He said that this was his favorite etching and self-portrait ever created. “Your face has the same spirit. Silly and honest. And beautiful.”
I touched one of Ísjaki’s fingers, then, braver, walked my hand to cover Ísjaki’s. Ísjaki flipped his palm up, and for a few seconds we played with each other’s hands. Normally, I preferred a reservedness that allowed me to shed doubt on my crushes and loves. That way, when all inevitably ended, I could tell myself I never truly cared; I applied balm in anticipation of my wounds. But I couldn’t with Ísjaki. I liked him too much; he was too extraordinary not to like unabashedly.
Ísjaki yawned theatrically. His hands up and away from mine. He had called me beautiful just moments before. “I’m sleepy,” he said.
“We could go to bed.” I pointed to my room.
“The sofa bed is more than fine, thank you. I slept profoundly yesterday.”
I stood up. Pulled my shirt down from the spot on my back where it had folded.
“Good night, Augusto,” he said, and I had no option but to retreat to my room. I was not sleepy.
After I masturbated, I listened to Ísjaki’s soft snores through the night. He had admitted to Aoi that he liked me, hadn’t he? Had called me his friend, had called me beautiful. And he had made out with me. In the morning, I would make him French toast. I would not kiss him, not right away. I’d give him the space he needed. We’d watch more movies later. His show was still a couple of days away. We had time.
The iceberg attracted an ungodly number of seagulls that pecked at it, as if the iceberg had fish trapped in its crevasses and the birds needed only break it open to find food. Their cries, at first romantic, became a nuisance. Litter from the city accumulated at the iceberg’s edges: plastic bags, bottles, diapers, a tire. The iceberg emitted a combined smell of fish and the acid smell of refuse. Its peaks, which had shined glorious before, now stood opaque, filmy, sullied by New York City’s air. Still, the iceberg remained floating contentedly by my side. Scruffy, the iceberg seemed more mine.
This was the third day of my iceberg’s visit. The reporters had given up with the iceberg after finding a Mandarin duck had flown into Central Park. The duck certainly had more personality than my iceberg, which was only massive and silent. The duck flew, swam, chirped, craned its feathery neck, tried to make friends with other ducks; the duck had a story. My iceberg was gorgeous and extraordinary, but a bit too unexplainable, too one-note, to hold the public’s interest. The camp that had formed on Staten Island dwindled. Only a few of my devotees remained, but I could tell their enthusiasm also waned.
The iceberg and I strolled down the bay. If the iceberg moved against the wind, the wind would help clean it, help it shed the seagulls and the trash and shine icy bright again. The stroll worked. A huge chunk of litter broke free from around the iceberg and floated unimpeded away from the bay. Half the gulls gave up following the iceberg, and even its fish smell grew fainter. I felt myself a proud iceberg caretaker.
People looked at me without excitement, more as a mediocre curiosity to glance at, as if I had been walking a very large dog. I found a boat, a tiny white dinghy with a chipped blue stripe. No one was around it, and so I got in. I managed to start the boat after three tugs of the chain. After bumping into the iceberg, into the sandy shore, and back again into the iceberg, I found my way out the bay, but the iceberg didn’t follow. It didn’t want to leave. I drove the boat as far as I could, pretending I’d leave my iceberg, but it did not budge.
Night came. The iceberg and I remained in the bay. The stars in the sky shone clean and cold, so white they were almost blue. I thought of the subway I would have to find and then take back to my empty apartment after the iceberg left. I thought of my plants I hadn’t watered.
They’d be fine. I’d been gone just three days. “But I don’t care about my plants,” I told the iceberg. “You’re the most exciting thing that has happened to me.”
The iceberg bobbed silent. How fantastic it was, how unbelievable. How huge. A mountain of craggy ice had come for me, just for me. I felt loved. I paddled as close as I could to the iceberg, stood on the dinghy, and, teetering, jumped on the iceberg. I climbed on the slippery ice and found the climb easy, as if the iceberg knew how to make its body jut out so that I could comfortably place my feet and grab it to hoist myself up. I found a crevasse in which I sat. I fit perfectly inside, cradled by the iceberg’s smooth ice. I didn’t know how to love my iceberg in return better than to make myself part of it, an indispensable organ deep within. The iceberg had already carved this place for me. I soon became wet. Drenched, in fact. The iceberg welcomed me by wetting me, a big sloppy kiss. And so, so cold. The cold hurt; I thought of getting out, of abandoning my iceberg, but when I reached the point when I believed I wouldn’t be able to stand the cold anymore, I became warm. Cozy warm. Safe. As warm and safe as I’d ever felt. I was finally part of the iceberg.
I woke up to an empty apartment. I’ll meet you at the gallery, read Ísjaki’s note. I hated intrigue. Why not wake me? I was going to whip us up some French toast. His backpack was gone too. Maybe he needed it for the day. To draw. In the shower, a dread came over me: What if Ísjaki had left for good? He said he would meet me at the gallery, but what if? I rinsed away the soap I had lathered, jumped out of the shower, dressed, and rushed to the gallery.
“Where is he?” Marisa asked as soon as I burst in.
I peered beyond Marisa. “He isn’t here?” Maybe she was trying to hide him from me.
“Do you not answer your phone anymore?”
I had many missed calls from her, but I hadn’t answered. Not when I had been with Ísjaki.
“Ísjaki didn’t want to be disturbed.”
“You work for me, not him. He should be working on his new piece right now.”
“Maybe that’s what he’s doing.”
“I don’t know.”
“He doesn’t have a phone.”
Marisa held her hands together in a plea motion. The pose she took when she needed me to act.
“I’ll find him,” I said.
I had no inkling as to where Ísjaki might have gone. But Ísjaki couldn’t have left. He still had his big New York show. I had even made a list of reasons to convince him to stay longer and jotted it down on my phone: New York has more walls than Reykjavík; a New York artist has more exposure than an Icelandic one; New York has so much art happening; New York has Augusto.
Aoi joined me across Queens and Brooklyn, even Manhattan, pacing the streets, searching for good walls, hoping to catch Ísjaki at his craft.
“Treasure hunt!” Aoi said. “Exciting, isn’t it?” When I said nothing, Aoi jumped in front of me. “What?”
I did not want to reveal how I pined for Ísjaki, how we’d kissed, how we liked each other. I held our moments close, and telling them would fizzle them away.
“He’ll show up, right?” I asked.
“Of course. Artists! They fuck with you. That’s their thing.”
We roamed for hours but couldn’t find him. Marisa called every half hour. Ísjaki hadn’t appeared at the gallery either. Why not tell me where he planned to create his next scene? Why didn’t I insist on knowing? I felt his absence as my breaths shortened, my eyes unfocused and the acid of panic rose up from my stomach.
“Are you okay?” Aoi asked. Even her enthusiasm had evaporated.
“He’s gone,” I said, and I caught my voice before it cried.
“He was weird.”
“But very cool. This is probably him shitting all over the art world. True artist.” Aoi’s voice was full of awe. How dare she feel anything for him? “Are you really okay, Gusto?”
“I’m good. It’s just… why would he leave?”
“You tell me. He stays at your apartment. Wouldn’t it be awesome if he made his drawing at your place?”
As quickly as we could, we made our way back to my apartment. Of course, there it was: Ísjaki’s new adventure on one of my walls. Next to it a note, taped up. Loved my time with you, Augusto, but I must go. Enjoy Ísjaki. —Gunnar.
“His name is Gunnar?” Aoi asked.
I wished Aoi gone. This moment felt unshareable.
She knelt by the picture. “How rad, Gusto. Priceless art in your own fucking living room!”
The man in the picture stretches his hand to touch the iceberg. There is no shock, surprise, or awe at the iceberg. There is simply a look of dumb, extraordinary love.
Gerardo Sámano Córdova is a writer from Mexico City. He holds an MFA from the University of Michigan. His work has appeared in Passages North, Ninth Letter, and other journals. His debut novel, Monstrilio, comes out March 2023. He also draws little creatures. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter @samanito.