Yes I was made of great chunks of fire and ice clashing together in the infinite void for untold ages until at last they ignited the perfect spark and I came groaning into existence. Yes I am massive and hideous and hoary and yes I stink like a stagnant peat bog, like rotted food left to sour and ferment among brine and wind and dank rich soil. But have you ever smelled yourself? Your armpits, your feet, your hot yawning breath in the morning? This is where life springs from. Lotions and powders and colognes only mask nature’s true scent. You can’t love life without loving the source of it, the sticky teeming messiness of it all. How can you love life if you hate your forefathers? How can you love life when each day, rubbing your creams and soaps all over your pathetic little bodies, you commit the most heinous acts of patricide?
I see them scheming and plotting, Odin and his brothers. They think of old Ymir as stupid, an old boulder-head. To them I just lumber around the edge of infinity with no foresight, no understanding even of the universe’s basic situation. The ignorance of youth!
They came to me in the fields the other day (though there are no fields and, for that matter, no days) when I was out with my cow, my great cow of fire and ice, my oldest friend, spawned from the same swirling abyss as me. Those three fair-hairs, Odin and his brothers, approached and asked my wisdom.
Odin spoke for them all. “What about an earth, grandfather, with trees and mountains and rivers? Since we are here, let us create something beautiful!”
The brothers stood in a row, all three indistinguishable from each other: long golden hair, sparkling eyes, fine features, sturdy jaws. “An earth!” they cried. “An earth, and fields, and oceans, and beasts!”
“And for what, my distant sons?” I said. I move slowly these days, and with great effort I sat down beside my cow — she whose udder had given life to so many. “You would create lands only to see them fought over and plowed up and covered by roads and buildings. You would create beasts only to see them slaughtered.”
“Yes!” Odin cried. “Battles, bravery, heroics! The thrill of the hunt!”
“My children,” I said, and suddenly I felt weary, obstinate and unreachable to youths such as these. Odin and his brothers are a thousand years old by now (though there are no years) and I and my cow a thousand times that. These golden brothers are restless, eager to carve a name for themselves, though in so doing they would unwittingly set in motion their own destruction. “Why do you crave such things?” I said. “War, bloodshed, heartache. Look around, see what peaceful lives we have. Why introduce such mayhem into the universe?”
“Yes, grandfather, of course you are right,” Odin said, but the gleam of insolence was in his eye, and as they walked away they snickered and whispered and I knew that their scheming had only begun.
Later I spoke with my jotun, the son with whom I am closest. He too possesses a long dirty beard and jagged rocks for teeth, and he rumbles and roars and stinks like his father. We sat in the field and stroked the cow and he said, “I have seen these youths troubling you, father.”
“They are young, jotun, and we are old — yes, we,” I said, for a surprised expression took over his ragged face. “Compared to Odin and his brothers, you are ancient. Why, you are as old now as I was when you first sprouted from my armpit.”
“None has ever looked like these three,” he said.
“Nor has any acted so,” I said. “For all of time we giants have been content to sit on the lip of infinity, to gorge ourselves on the frothy milk of this cow, to slumber and sprout New Ones from the ripeness of our bodies. Now these brothers want to clothe themselves and shave their cheeks and do things no one has ever sought to do.”
“Perhaps they should go off into the void, where they can do as they please.”
“Yes,” I said, “but for some reason that makes me uneasy,” and with great pains and cracking of knees rose from my spot and stomped away to think.
Recently, over these past few millennia, I have noticed myself growing increasingly — for lack of a better term — grumpy. I don’t feel any particular animosity, even towards Odin and his troublesome siblings. I just feel old. Thick icicles now form in my beard and it is agony to break them off. Still I am ripe and fermenting — every year (though there are no years) a new being sprouts from behind my ear or between my toes or from the compost of my navel — but perhaps I am freezing up. And there is nothing I can do about it.
After I left my jotun, I strode with head down, hands clasped behind my back, cow at my heels. Odin and his brothers want to create — but create from what? There is nothing but an endless void. We exist upon the threshold of nothingness. What would they use to mold this earth of theirs? Perhaps if they traveled far and wide, as my eldest son suggested, they might find some undiscovered material. They want forests and mountains and rivers. What substance is rich enough, fecund enough, for them to shape it into such forms?
I stopped in my tracks on the lip of the void, so abruptly that I nearly tumbled in.
Yes I could see it now. All the plotting and whispering; all the sidelong glances; the obsequious questions merely a ruse. They sought to destroy me. My body would be their earth, my hair their forests, my teeth boulders, my bones mountains, my blood rivers. My skin would be their soil, and what strong and varied beasts would feast upon it!
My dear cow regarded me quizzically. “Old friend, the end is near!” I cried. This was dreadful indeed. I walked for centuries, over hill and dale (though there are neither), trying to envision a different route, an alternative destiny for old Ymir. No. It is inevitable. I am the oldest creature who has ever existed, but even a hoary frost giant must, I suppose, eventually succumb to new blood.
So I walk. I pace around the lip ceaselessly, waiting for the three brothers to descend upon me, to stab me and hack me and yank the icicles from my crusty old beard. Each time a new head emerges from the bubbling grout between my toes I yank it out and cast it into the void—better for it to perish now, my poor youngest jotun, that to live to see its father murdered and likely itself cleft apart by Odin’s axe. For I know that in their fury, these brothers shall spare no one. Oh, if only they knew what they did! To create an earth and to populate it with spindly perfumed creatures like themselves will bring nothing but pain and death.
But these young ones must have their way.
Only I wonder — having never been dead — when I am sliced by the sword, chopped by the axe, stretched apart and tilled and paved and irrigated … will I know? I want to ask someone, but there is no one to ask. I was the first to live, and—excepting my aborted, unconscious jotun heads — I shall be the first to die. But when they use me for clay, will I understand what is going on? Will I feel them tread upon me? Will I know? Will I know?
[N. T. Brown lives in Orlando, FL, with his dog Seven and his cat Mrs. Mia Wallace.]