The Relocation Specialist
Alice Whittenburg
Hayward Fault Line Winner
At noon on Earth Day I went to a tiny vegetarian restaurant in Reykjavik, as I had been instructed to do. At the counter I said the word “Caribbean,” and the cashier pointed toward the table by the window. I introduced myself in halting French to Giselle and Henri from Martinique, and to Brigitte from Aruba. We all ordered the Vegan Bouillabaisse, and together we waited for the Relocation Specialist.

Before I left home I had transferred all my savings to the Specialist, who said he could help me immigrate to Iceland. My island country is growing hotter and will soon be underwater, if the hurricanes don’t destroy it first. The Specialist said Iceland would accept only vegans as climate refugees, which surprised me because Icelandic cuisine is heavy on the meat and fish. But I was willing to adopt a new diet in order to find a new home.

After we finished our meals, Brigitte said, “I would like to know more about what vegans eat. Can they eat honey? Can they eat butter? Can they eat chanterelles?”

“Of the three, only chanterelles are vegan,” I said.

“But chanterelles are like a kind of rubbery flesh,” Brigitte said.

“Nonetheless, they don’t come from animals.”

Henri pointed toward the clock. I saw that it was 14:08. He shrugged. I shrugged.

Brigitte said, “Are we going to become mimes as well as vegans?” Her cell phone rang. She listened for a minute and smiled a knowing smile.

Slowly, in deference to my bad French, Giselle said, “Iceland is a place where summer days are very long and winter nights don’t end. And if you must travel on the pitiless rock, which ranges in color from black to the yellow-brown of Dijon mustard, and you must witness the volcanic fires...” She paused for a few seconds. “Suave qui peut – it’s every man for himself!”

Just then the Relocation Specialist came through the door. He turned a chair and straddled it, looking at us expectantly. He seemed to give off cool fumes and icy vapors. Brigitte handed him a fat envelope, and I caught a glimpse of many krónur.  The Specialist quickly saw that the rest of us could not deliver.

“I thought everyone knew the code,” Brigitte said as she left the restaurant, arm in arm with the Specialist. “You didn’t really think the Specialist was a government man or that Iceland wanted vegans, nice though that would be for the planet? It meant another ten million Icelandic krónur in cash, you silly vegan mimes.”  

We silently watched them go. Then Giselle again said, “Sauve qui peut,” and I wondered if I should make a run for it across the mustard-colored rock.

First published: May, 2014
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