Given this morning’s -30 F temperature and the omnipresent mounds of snow, it’s very easy to confuse the Chicago slice of Miðrgarðr for Jotunheim. Whizzing along on the northbound Tri-State, making my morning transition from Cook to Lake County during my drive to work, it was difficult to not find the landscape tinged with thurz-friendly phantasmagoria—look, there’s Fenris loping amidst the snow-laden oaks, sycamores, and aspens in Busse Woods; Skadi loves stomping about with her snowshoes in a childlike spirit of abandon in the gravelly pit of the major construction site at Willow Road.
I was listening to the sweet strains of Loreena McKennit’s liltingly lovely musical interpretation of Tennyson’s masterpiece, “The Lady of Shallot,” when it dawned on me—just as Sunna’s orange and scarlet robes blinded me in the rear-view mirror—that this day is absolutely, wholly, and unequivocally laced with death. The very air, reminiscent of that primal giant from whom the whole world was crafted, is tinged with it. Try inhaling without a scarf or other covering to shield your mouth while, say, walking a dog for 20 minutes and you’ll feel it, death like a form of anti-pneuma seeping into your lungs. A cold caress that makes your flesh and bones revolt to the touch.
I cranked up the volume of the song and found that my non sequitur response to the Lady of Shallot’s vague and involuntary, albeit musical, death (“Singing in her song / She died”), was a flood of anger. Menglad curled her lips in a twisted grin of approval. Thrym clicked his teeth from beneath the patches of black ice on the tollway. Thiazi folded his arms and leaned his massive form against the trunk of an isa-coated beech tree—the one that Fenris just trotted past and thought about taking a piss upon, but found himself distracted by scents elsewhere and just kept loping along northward.
Anger. Surging like a primal fire, the equal and opposite force of the prevailing frost around me. I called upon Odin’s darker, more chthonic aspects—Bolverk, Hangaguð—and felt that Fafnir’s gear shifter had become a spear in my right hand. Surt stepped out from behind Sunna’s glowing, crimson-tinged, egg yolk robes and started to subject me to a slide show of sorts inside the lenses of my sunglasses: faces of people who have become reviled, coated with contempt, as well as the faces of those cast by the winds of perdition into the realms of the useless. A veritable gallery of ghosts.
“Burn,” Surt whispered. I nodded. Loreena McKennit had moved on to her song of “Cymbeline,” wherein the Bard (that’s Shakespeare, not Ms. McKennit) exhorts us to “Fear no more / The heat o’ the sun / Nor the furious winter’s rages.” My brain cells clung—still cling—onto that phrase like a vise grip.
About an hour after arriving at my desk, a phone call from The Wasband bearing bad news (what else!): “Anna, Balder is dead.”
Balder, his obese cat—a Thor substitute, adopted during the divorce process to keep Loki company. Balder had died from exposure or possibly even ingesting exposed paints—the artsy kind, not the house-painting kind.
Fucking fool, I bitterly thought—about The Wasband, not about Balder. And I wept, wept over the death of Balder, recalling Frigga’s grievous plea to have every sentient being in all of Creation weep over Balder, slain by Hodur at the hand of Loki. And every thing—every plant, every animal, every wight, and every god—did weep at the untimely passing of Balder…every being except Loki in disguise. Loki, whose smile shines in the darkness like the gleaming coals of a furnace in a basement; Loki, whose lips get sewn shut.
You fucking fool. You irresponsible, selfish idiot. I wish I had never laid eyes upon you.
Angrboða held a tissue out for me so I could blow my nose.
This is a day of waste, of laying waste to many, many things. This much I know. And Bolverk outfits my forehead with the Helm of Awe, and Surt amps up my flair for pyrotechnical madness, and Thrym—oh, dread “Uproar” from the frost!—spits ice into my veins and coats my heart accordingly. I shall go down to the ice-encrusted waves of the lake behind my office building, throw out a golden tribute to Ran (a gold hoop earring, shorn of a mate, works nicely), and I will harvest the treasure of the glistening X-Acto blade that she will swipe across my receptive wrist.