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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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The umbellifers - the twenty-seventh letter


We grow cold and look inward, for the frost has breathed on us and the city is making ready for a long hibernation. The season is over and the city people withdraw to their homes, doors are locked, conversation decreases. In the streets there are fewer and fewer people and vehicles, and all of them have particular destinations.


In many shop windows I have already seen a careless scribbled notice announcing that the shop will next open in the spring. Only one in three or four street lamps are lighted in the evenings, and later - so I have been told - only squares and crossroads will be lit.


Tourists are scarcely to be seen any longer. Who would be amused, after all, by touring a cold, dark city.


It is sad, sad. I think the lights of Tainaron should shine now that the sun is seen only seldom, more plentiful and colourful than before, but instead the city becomes dimmer and more impoverished. Life stops in a thin crust of ice like frozen water and in the eyes of the few passers-by there is only the glimmer of the need for well-earned rest, but I am restless and wish to live. I wish to come and go, I wish to do something with these hands I see before me on the table so pale and helpless; I wish to debate important questions and eat and clink glasses.


Too late! Longhorn, if I mention my wishes to him, merely shakes his head and reassures me: 'In the spring! When the winter has gone.'


And I see, of course I see exhaustion in his black jewel-eyes, I see that he himself would already prefer to withdraw to his home and stays on his feet only because I am here and in a way his guest. Always, before I meet him, I intend to say: 'Go, do go, you do not have to stay awake for my sake; I shall manage very well here.' But the words stick in my throat, for I know I shall be lost when he is gone.


And one cannot even see the fireflies here any longer; they have completely disappeared from the streets, and that, more than anything else, shows what hard times await us. Even the house of the Queen Bee looks bolted, and I cannot imagine where all the Oddfellows have scattered. But today when I went past the house's battened-down shutters, I saw a little light coming out of one of the cracks. I got up on tiptoe and peered inside, but I did not see the Queen Bee. But the empty room was filled with a warm, rosy glow whose source is in the honeycombs of memory. Perhaps its warmth will suffice for the Queen Bee, however long and hard the winter.


The Dangler's balcony, too, is empty, and the street below it, one of Tainaron's busiest thoroughfares, cuts through the city, empty and clean. Just occasionally a hawkmoth or two rushes past me in its late refitting. Elsewhere it is quiet, but in my head clatter the melancholy words: chippings and clay! Chippings and clay!


The spring tide is over, and Oceanos is murmuring its winter story. It is unlikely that I shall ever again come to gaze longingly over its swelling waters.


If now it were to happen that a letter were to drop on to my doormat, I know what it would say. You would write: 'Why do you not go away?'


I can hear you say it, rather coldly and a little didactically, as if you were offering me something on a plate, but looking away at the same time. And I admit that I have heard those words before; I have asked myself the same question. And perhaps, if someone were to say the word, I would go. I taste the word in my mouth; how fresh and pure it tastes.


I had my reasons for coming to Tainaron; I am sure they were important reasons, but I have nevertheless forgotten what they were.


'Come!' What if I were to say that to you? It would be in vain, quite in vain, for all I could show you would be the wintry stalks of the umbellifers in the meadow at the Botanical Gardens.


Upright like them, I remain in this land of sleepers.


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