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Tainaron by Leena Krohn, 1998

Mail from another city

© Leena Krohn

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Tainaron - Mail from another city





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Their mother's tears - the fourth letter


There are strange houses in one of the suburbs. They are like goblets, very narrow and high, and to a certain extent they recall piles of ashes; but their reddish walls are as strong as concrete. In them live a countless mass of inhabitants, small but very industrious folk, who are in constant motion. They all resemble each other so closely that I should never learn to recognise any of them. One, however, is an exception.


It is already a long time since I asked Longhorn whether, one day, he would take me to one of those houses. 'Why do they interest you?' he asked. 'Their architecture is so extraordinary,' I said. 'Perhaps you know someone there? Perhaps I could go there with you sometime?'


'If you wish,' said Longhorn; but he did not look particularly keen.


Yesterday, at last, Longhorn took me to one of those dwellings. At the entrance was a doorman with whom he exchanged a few words and who set off to accompany me. 'We shall meet this evening,' shouted Longhorn, and disappeared into the gaudy bustle of Tainaron.


I was led along dim and intricate corridors that opened on halls, warehouses and living spaces of different sizes. Past me rushed large numbers of people; all of them seemed to be in a hurry and in the midst of important tasks. But I was taken to the innermost room of the house, at whose door stood more guards. There was no window in the room, but it was nevertheless almost unbearably bright, although I could not see the source of the light.


I certainly realised that there were other people in the room, but I could see only one. She was immeasurably larger than all the others, monumental, all the more so because she stayed in one place, unmoving. Her dimensions were enormous: her egg-shaped head grazed the roof of the vault and, in its half recumbent position, her breadth extended from the doorway to the back of the room. As I stepped inside and stood by the wall (there was hardly room anywhere else), there came from her mouth a creaking sound which I interpreted as a welcome.


'Show respect for the queen,' hissed my guide, and knelt down. Unaccustomed to such gestures, I felt embarrassed, but I followed his example.


Some time passed before any attention was paid to me. By the walls of the room, around the queen, rushed creatures whose task was evidently to satisfy all her needs. I soon realised that they were necessary, for the queen was so formless that she herself could hardly take a step. And I concluded that she could not possibly have gone out through the door; she must live and die within these walls, without ever seeing even a flicker of sun. Her plight horrified me, and I wanted to leave the glowing cave quickly.


At that moment the creaking voice startled me. I realised that the queen had turned her head a little so that she was now staring at me languidly, at the same time sipping a milky fluid from a goblet held under her infinitesimal jaw.


The straw fell from her lip, and new croaks followed. With difficulty, I made out the following words: 'I know what you're thinking, you little smidgeon.'


'I'm sorry,' I stammered, and vexation made me flushed.


'You think, don't you, that I am some kind of individual, a person, admit it!'


As she went on speaking, her voice grew deeper, and it was as if it began to buzz. It was a most extraordinary voice, for it seemed to be made up of the murmur of hundreds of voices.


'Yes, indeed, I mean....' I grew completely confused for a moment and sat down on my heels, as kneeling on the hard floor was too tiring.


'Quite so, of course,' I said rapidly, completely puzzled.


'Didn't I guess?' she said, and burst into laughter, which sometimes boomed, sometimes tinkled in the corridors so infectiously that in the end all the inhabitants of the building seemed to be joining in, and the entire house was laughing at my simplicity.


Suddenly complete silence followed, and she said, pointing at me with her long proboscis, 'So tell me, who am I?'


Before I could even think of an answer to this question, I realised at last what was happening in the back part of the room, which was filled with the queen's great rear body. I had, in fact, been aware all the while that something was being done incessantly, but the nature of that activity hit me like a thunderbolt. Bundles had been carried past me, but it was only at the third or fourth that I looked more closely and saw: they were new-born babies.


The queen was giving birth! She was giving birth incessantly. And just as I realised that, I seemed to hear from all around me the din of a hammer, commands, the chirrup of a saw, and everywhere there hovered the stench of building mortar. I realised that more and more storeys were being added to the house, and that it was reaching ever higher into the serenity of the sea of air. The sounds of construction reached me even from deep under the ground, and in my mind's eye I could see corridors branching beneath the paving stones like roots, greedily growing from day to day. The tribe was increasing; the house was being extended. The city was growing.


'You are the mother of them all, your majesty,' I replied, humbly.


'But what is a mother?' she squealed, and suddenly her voice rose to a piercing height, as one of her antennae lashed through the air above my head like a whip.


I retreated and pressed myself to the wall, although I understood that she would not be able to come any nearer.


'She from whom everything flows is not a someone,' the queen hissed through her wide jaws, like a snake. I gazed at her, bewitched.


'You came to see me, admit it!' she growled, more deeply than I dared think. 'But you will be disappointed! You are already disappointed! Admit it!'


'No, not in the least,' I protested, anxiously.


'But there is no me here; look around you and understand that! And here, here in particular, there is less of me than anywhere. You think I fill this room. Wrong! Quite wrong! For I am the great hole out of which the city grows. I am the road everyone must travel! I am the salty sea from which everyone emerges, helpless, wet, wrinkled....'


Her voice chided me warmly, like a great ocean swell. As she spoke, she glanced languidly behind her, at her formless, mountainous rear, from whose depths her latest offspring were being helped into the brightness of the lamps. They were all born silently, as if they were dead.


But suddenly I saw something gush from her eyes; it splashed on to the floor and the walls and wetted all my clothes.


She was no longer looking at me, and I rose and left the room, wet with the queen's tears.


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