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Mail from another city ež1

by Leena Krohn ež2

Sand - The fourteenth letter ež265

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Sand - The fourteenth letter ež265

The new day dawned low and cloudy. In my melancholy, I set out for a walk - alone - for Longhorn, after all, has his work, of which I know almost nothing; but I assume it is some kind of business activity. ež266

I wanted to see something I had not seen before, and for that reason I set out toward the eastern part of the city, although I well remembered that Longhorn had urged me to stay away from those parts. When I asked why, he merely said that it was not safe to go there alone. ež267

But it was midday, after all, and I was walking along a broad esplanade bordered on both sides by high poplars which were still green. Looked at from a distance, they recall the crowns of some other tree, standing on their bases. I walked past the theatre, on whose eaves snouty caryatids slumber; that building has a particular charm. I came to a cross-street full of expensive specialist shops and pretty little cafÚs. I myself have often sat at their clean tables, but now I did not stop. I was in a hurry, as if on my way to some agreed meeting. ež268

Now I came to streets which were unfamiliar. I could no longer see business plaques or inventively decorated shop windows. The buildings became more closed, dilapidated and lower. I sank into melancholy, and for a while I went on hardly glancing around me, but the unevenness of the gravel under my heels startled me. Now I realised that the streets in this part of the city were not paved, or even asphalted. They were deeply rutted, in an almost unpassable condition, but neither did there seem to be any kind of traffic any longer in these parts. Pavements, too, had been left unbuilt, and between the buildings there meandered indistinct lanes. After a few steps I was forced to ask myself: were they buildings? For is it not the case that the buildings in which we live and our friends live have straight and solid walls? Are their roofs not covered in slates or tin and are their windows not made of glass? ež269

As I walked, I remembered entrances and heavy front doors whose handles were of brass, gutters that drummed in the rain, and chimneys and chimney-pipes which, seen from an attic window, looked like solitary people. And behind the window panes? There should have been the glimmer of white curtains, eyes, cats and the dim perspectives of the life of strange rooms.... ež270

But there was nothing of the sort to be seen. The habitations past which I walked were lacking in all the characteristics of proper dwellings. First of all, there were no straight lines. Everything curved and twisted, meandered without direction, without clear corners. The dwellings rose from the earth, earth-coloured, made of clay and loam. They had indefinitely shaped openings in place of windows and doors. Where were the columns and capitals which one could admire in almost every square in the centre of the city? Where was the rosy golden glow of the cupolas, and the window recesses with their rich mosaic patterns? The wall-niche and the sandstone shapes that beckoned to them? The slender roof-groins and the pointed arches? The pilastered galleries and the atriums with their flowering trees? ež271

I realised that there were two Tainarons, or perhaps even more, who knows.... This was a Tainaron lacking in everything that is called culture, everything which joy and hope, prosperity and ambition, can build and embellish on Earth. ež272

I cannot say I liked it. ež273

I walked faster than before. My intention was now to traverse this obscure and peripheral part of the city as quickly as possible and spend a moment at the sandy beach of which I had heard. After that I decided to return to the centre of the city via the northern causeway, although it is long and dull. ež274

The light increased, and from somewhere the shimmer of water was reflected over the nests, cells and systems of caves that were hollowed out of the sand and the rock. From in front of me I heard an incessant rustling and scouring, as if the earth were being swept with a large brush; but there was nothing to be seen. A couple of times I heard, from behind a stony hillock, the sound of dragging and something buzzing; I was certain that a lizard or reptile was hiding among the stones. I saw a couple of passers-by; they were small and fragile, dragonfly-like creatures. The last dwellings I passed were just low mounds and holes. They would offer shelter only to the most insignificant and modest beings, and they soon sank and merged into the fine, golden sand, which was certainly beautiful to look at, although it made my steps heavy and insinuated its way into my shoes and even into my mouth, making me thirsty. ež275

Nevertheless, I decided to walk a few steps further, although I had already admitted to myself that my trip was not exactly fun. The sand spread before me in gently swelling dunes. I could no longer see any signs of the city around me. The sand radiated the same simple severity as the snow-fields at home, the allure of inviolability, dreams and emptiness. ež276

As I gazed at one particular sandbank, its shape reminded me of a sledging slope which, long ago, rose in the courtyard of my childhood home. I began to be very tired, and I felt like sprawling for a moment in its softness. Suddenly I was so sleepy that my thoughts became confused: what if I freeze? ež277

I took a couple of steps toward the ridge, and at the same time my attention fastened on some insignificant protuberances that were at first hardly distinguishable from the surrounding sandy plain. When I went nearer, I saw earthworks of various sizes, all of them in the form of circles, forming concentric rings. At their centre was a conical pit, symmetrical and apparently purpose-built, for wind or water could not possibly have built such exact forms. Those hollows reminded me of something.... Long ago, I must have seen something similar; but it was quite painful that I could not bring to mind where it had happened. ež278

Behind the sandbank I saw yet another earthwork, larger than all the others. I climbed up to its ridge and the sand immediately began to move under my feet. Small avalanches fell down the walls of the pit here and there, soundless falls and swifter torrents, making a rustling sound as if a woman in evening dress were rushing, complete with train, through a thicket. ež279

It was not until a moment later that I noticed that there was a hole deeper in the pit. At first it looked infinitesimally small, but that could not be the case, for in fact I was still so far from it that it could well be wider than the circumference of my head. It looked immeasurably deep. The grains of sand that were displaced by the heels of my shoes as soon as I moved in the slightest fell over its fragile edges. I stood where I was - insofar as there was a definite place to stand, for something was continually happening on the ridge of the earthworks, so I did not have a firm foothold - yes, I stood where I was, and I could not take my eyes off that round hole. At first I felt that the movement I thought I noticed came from the shadow of my eyelashes, for my eyelids were fluttering. Then I saw it quite clearly, without any doubt: something was moving in the hole, very deep beneath the sand; and then the walls of the pit, too, began to undulate. ež280

At that moment I believe I executed a very strange and, in relation to my strength, supernatural leap, for my foothold was finally giving way and I felt myself slipping with the sand toward the grave-dark hole. ež281

On no account did I climb; I made a half-vault backward, for the next moment I found myself behind the earthwork, looking at the panicles of a tussock of grass, which moved lightly at the level of my eyes. I turned my head so that I now saw nothing but sand: dim quartz granules, deep red grains of granite, crushed snail shells. The clouds had dispersed; the sun shone on the shadowless sand. I felt as if I had never looked at anything so closely, because the gold of a particular vein of mica shone into my pupil, red as the embers of a fire. ež282

I had thrown myself on the sand through the sheer weakness of fear, for I had been able to glimpse how some kind of point, a claw covered in fur or prickles, or perhaps a tooth, had flitted past the edge of the hole, but had immediately disappeared back into the darkness. ež283

Later I got up and my feet took me back, but I do not remember the road; and it is of no importance. I have not yet met Longhorn, and I have no intention of telling him what happened today. ež284

At this moment I could be hollow, as empty as the ants from which ant-lion grubs suck the innards and vital fluids. In writing this, I am a little ashamed, as if I wanted to disturb you by telling you this; but it is true, after all. ež285

I examine my nails and the skin on the backs of my hands closely, knowing that they could be among the fragile and dry skins that are thrown over the ridge of the earthworks and which crumble to dust and disappear among the sand. ež286

But the wind! It rises and distributes both dust and sand over the towers of Tainaron, and the dunes shift once more some distance toward the interior. From a high hillock a grating sound is heard, and I see the Ferris wheel spinning in the wind, but guess that its cogwheels, too, are now grinding sand from the shore. When I think about the buzzing, the sea of air that undulates around the antennae and the towers and which sets the papers in the gutter dancing, I am no longer at all afraid. Its reinvigorating breath passes through personal happiness and unhappiness, and they are no more than a couple of steps in the great dance. ež287

But have I not just returned from a beach where I have no memory of water? Was it really the case that I did not even glance northward, across the expanse of Oceanos, but that the waves and details of the sand swallowed all my attention, just as they will one day cover the city of Tainaron? The skuas must have shrieked then, too, and the waves roared, but I, absent-minded, saw nothing but the sand and the claw.... ež288

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Author: ©Leena Krohn 1998
Translation: ©Hildi Hawkins
E-presentation: © Ralph Amissah
W3 since October 3 1993