The soles of Maura’s feet burned as she walked across the icy path. Her cozy robe had been abandoned in the little bar, and her swimsuit was definitely not providing enough protection from the biting wind. One of the lifeguards eyed her quizzically through his goggles, his bright orange snowsuit reflecting sun and snow. The dressing room had been packed, but no one else seemed to be out on this deck. Only a few more steps, please don’t slip…and then she was in.
The warm, milky water rose up to her chin as she walked forward and the chalky silica squished between her toes. She could feel the varying temperatures carried by the currents – hot, warm, very hot – as she moved along the bank of the lake, careful not to get too close to the jagged pumice at the water’s edge. She dipped her head back into the hot water, feeling ice crystals form on her eyelashes and eyebrows. The sky was immense above her, and she closed her eyes.
“You look very thirsty. Perhaps you would let me buy you a drink?”
Maura tilted her head up slightly, opening her eyes and looking toward the sound of the voice.
The voice came from a man of indeterminate height (the water was up to his chin, too, but who could tell if he was on his knees or tip toes), wearing a wool beanie and with bits of white mud stuck to his sideburns and forehead. His accent was heavily Russian and he looked a little like the abominable snowman. She had heard that people used the silica mud for facial masks…the effect was other-worldly.
“No, I just got in…not ready to get back out, yet!” She raised a hand to brush the ice crystals off of her hair, but the air was too cold and she quickly pulled arm and hand back down into the hot water.
“It’s no problem. I bring your drink here,” he smiled, “Heineken or champagne?”
Maura’s expression must have been one of pure confusion, because he added, “your choice…or both, maybe?”
It hadn’t occurred to her that she could drink in the Blue Lagoon, but as she surveyed the other bathers, she noticed through the steam that many of them were clutching beer bottles or plastic cups of wine next to their faces.
“Um…okay,” Maura replied, regretting her response as soon as it was out of her mouth. What was she doing?
The Russian smiled and swam away from her. She watched him swim under an arch she hadn’t noticed before, and then could see his speedo-clad body ascend stairs inside the glassed-in bar. That’s why the lifeguard thought she was nuts and why there was no one on the deck when she had risked life and limb to cross the icy ramp. You could just swim into the lagoon from inside!
She noticed several other men, maybe friends of her new drinking companion, floating in the water about 20 feet away.
“Hello!” one of them called.
Maura wondered where Jackson was. He had wanted to go on the official tour, see the geothermal plant that fed the lagoon and learn about their health research facility, but Maura was only interested in floating in the milky water, so they parted ways after paying the entry fee – each paying his or her own way. Maura was a very independent person, but it irritated her how Jackson never offered to pay for anything, and how he’d shrug when she’d offer to pick up dinner or some other expense. “If you want, it’s fine with me.” Eventually, when it became clear that he’d never return the favor, she stopped offering.
Jackson was good in some ways, but his charm was growing thin on this trip (what had possessed her to agree to travel to a foreign country with him in the first place?). They didn’t seem to be interested in doing any of the same things, and Maura almost lost it when he insisted on going to on the geothermal instead of exploring the lagoon with her. He reasoned that the tour was only supposed to take an hour and he promised to find her in the lagoon after. What was taking him so long? And how would he find her? The lagoon was enormous, and it wasn’t easy to see through the steam. Oh well, she’d found other company.
“I brought back three of each, but if it’s not enough, I can swim back – no problem,” the Russian grinned at her, improbably holding three bottles of Heineken in one hand and three cups of sparkling wine with the other. Maua accepted one of each – why not?
“Thanks…I don’t think you said your name?”
His grin was contagious and Maura smiled back at him in spite of herself. Jackson wasn’t a jealous guy, but it occurred to her that he might not be too happy to find her swilling drinks with some random stranger. Whatever. Were she and Jackson even a couple? Standing in the hot water in the crazy moonscape of the Blue Lagoon, her relationship with Jackson seemed totally ridiculous.
The “champagne” was incredibly sweet and went straight to her head. Luckily she had the beer to chase it. Bruno watched her drink, accepting the empties from her like he was her mother, and handing her a second beer.
“See, I could tell you were thirsty! A very thirsty…Canadian? American?”
“Ah – I am from Estonia. You hear of it?”
“I think so…by Russia, right?”
“Everything is by Russia!”
“Not America,” she replied. She thought maybe Bruno was making fun of her.
“No, not America. You are right. Estonia is very beautiful country, I think you would like it.”
“Hello Bruno, who is your friend?”
Two of the men from the nearby group were swimming toward them. They were both wearing wool beanies like Bruno and had even more white mud than on their faces and necks.
“She’s from America,” Bruno offered.
“Hello Miss America, very pleased to meet you.”
A fourth Russian – wait, were they all Estonian? – swam up, carrying six Heineken above his head, which he distributed around the circle. Two for him and a beer each for everyone else, including Maura. Her body was so warm, and the air around her face was so cold, and the beer was so cold.
“You here all alone?” Bruno asked.
“Um…no. I’m here with a friend. He’s taking a tour of the geothermal plant.”
“Ah yes…very interesting,” one of Bruno’s friends commented.
“But he’s coming in the lagoon?” Bruno asked.
“Yeah. I mean, I think so.”
“I…I’m not sure.”
Although it wasn’t completely dark yet, the moon had risen, adding a surreal glow to the surface of the water and the white mudded faces of the men.
“Have you tried the silica?” one of the men asked her, “it is very good for your skin.”
Bruno reached down, and then approached her, his hand just out of the water, full of white mud.
Maura held very still as Bruno smeared the mud across her forehead and down her cheeks. He dabbed her nose and chin, and delicately, even respectfully, smoothed some down her neck. He then wiped what was remaining in his palm on his own face, adding to the mud that was already there. Maura felt herself transformed.
Just then she heard someone calling through the steam.
A familiar looking head swam in their direction. He scanned their faces, and then continued on past.
Maura watched him swim away.
“Poor guy. He must have lost his lady,” one of Bruno’s friends laughed.
Yes, thought Maura, I believe he has.