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[personal profile] exitseraphim
Dear Ilyana,
We rang in the New Year at my house. Aunt Polina came over to have dinner with us, and we had the TV turned to the countdown as we gathered in the living room. Jeroen has been in Amsterdam with your grandparents for the holiday season this year. They’ve been fighting, I think. They haven’t invited us over very often, and Aunt Polina has been going on a lot of long walks with Mom on the weekends.  Mom says that they will work through it though; she says I shouldn’t worry about them and it’s been a tough year and no couples can seamlessly transition through grief. She gave me so many reasons without me saying anything that I started to worry, but I do think she’s right. They’ll be okay. He’s coming back tomorrow. 
For dinner, we had the usual: sauerkraut, salad, herring, pelmenyi. We had ham on Christmas Eve, so we had chicken and steak for New Year’s Eve. Dad was the kitchen all day, humming “Silent Night” of all things. I went to the European deli downtown with Mom to buy the herring and pickles. It made me think of Ygritte offering apple slices on Halloween (or maybe I should say Hollowy). They would both be so unlikely to show up in an American sitcom holiday episode, although I guess I could see apple slices being offered by a health nut character. It’s strange. When Mom and I went around running errands, I kept glimpsing people that you describe. I thought I caught a glimmer of Iswy, but then it turned out to be a plastic bag, stuck on some shrubbery in a parking lot median and fluttering in the breeze. I thought I saw Azra through the boarded up windows of The New Wave, but when I got closer, I saw that it was just the shadows cast by the shelves of videotapes. Guess they haven’t emptied out their stock yet. 
Aunt Polina brought champagne for them and Martinelli’s for me. I think of the night through a lens of bubbling gold liquid, I saw so much of it through the glasses: Mom’s face, spliced like a Cubist painting, laughing in response to a joke that Aunt Polina made; Dad’s hand smudged by a whorl of bubbles as he helped himself to more salad; Aunt Polina’s eyes, their sadness somehow unmasked by the golden hue as she raised her glass for a toast. Toast to what? To the new year, to health, to your memory, the first couple times. Then they got more creative. 
I might have spent more time that night peering through my glass and its contents than drinking the cider, but the adults were too far gone in their own haze to notice. It makes the moment feel more ephemeral, and this memory will fade into a golden blur over which next year’s will be laid and the year’s after that. I’ll have a stack of flimsy memories of New Year’s, and I want to tie them up with a string and mail them to you, but I don’t know how. 
I’m not sure, where you are, if Halloween or All Souls’ Day would be more commonly used to mark the passing of time, whatever time would mean in eternity. It’s so arbitrary, New Year’s, but I guess it is as good a day as any to take account of the past and look to the future. I want to say I will never stop writing, but I am held back (please, don’t put the letter down, please hear me out) by fear that I will. That maybe one day the letters will no longer reach you. That maybe one day I will just put it off to the next and so a day unspools into a week into a month into a year into a life. I will hate myself, I think, if that were to happen. 
I’m glad you were able to hear me play for you. I wrote my own arrangement of “Welcome to the Black Parade” for solo cello, and I’ve been practicing it. I don’t know if it’s any good; It’s on the simplistic side, but I didn’t want embellishments to obscure the original melody. I played it for our parents, just after the countdown, amid the sounds of our neighbors’ noisemakers and honking – did you manage to catch any of it?
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[personal profile] exitseraphim
Dear Ilyana,

I haven’t written in a while. I’m sorry. I haven’t written much at all, and the blank pages in those notebooks I bought at the beginning of the school year seem to reflect accusations at me when I look at them. Words just haven’t fit the way I want them to, and it can be so hard to mold my thoughts into language without strangling them.

On the other hand, it’s so easy to sink into nostalgia. In a single day, I feel so many empty, self-indulgent, easy feelings, emotions with intensity but no velocity. My mind is like a shallow pool whose waters refracted give it the illusion of depth, whose plane is circumscribed by imperceptible limits that nonetheless assert their presence. I don’t do anything with these feelings, but they circulate in my mind, like birds that have been trapped in a cage with nowhere to roost, permutations of the same thoughts. Would taking action to force change sully the purity of my emotions or is that a rationalization that emerged from my lethargy? Ilyana, my thoughts are trapped within me and I in them. You led me out of them, when I could. But now I only really have my books to lead me out. They extend a comforting hand, but they can only take me to where my mind meets with the minds of others. That world extends far and expands always, but it never quite breaches the frontier of the world that everyone else inhabits.

Mom worries. I’ve been in summer school the past month or so. It was kind of a big deal. Mom got called to school for a parent-teacher conference with my chemistry teacher, and they decided that retaking the class was the best thing for me. I was really close to passing, and Ms. Aira was contemplating giving me a few extra points so I wouldn’t have to repeat. “To take things into consideration” was her reason. Mom didn’t think that was a good idea though, so I’ve been retaking chem for hours every day. You don’t have to care about grades. Aunt Polina longs to worry about you though, and she has projected to worry onto me. (I don’t say that to make you feel guilty, so I hope you don’t.) She comes over to review the material with me every evening after dinner, and my test scores have improved a lot this second them around.

Recently I have been reading a lot of poetry, most of it pretty unusual, like calligrams or other poems that play with typography. I don’t know if you ever came across these poems much. The words might form pictures or they sometimes splatter all over the page. Sometimes there is only a single word on a page. Or there might be two words in one line but each word hugs opposite edges of the page. Even the word themselves get ripped apart, syllables or letters left to hang, stripped partially of their meaning. Words are also smashed together in a mad rush of sound. I find bits and pieces of myself in these strange poems, in the spaces and in the ink. They help me widen my mindscape, that limited pool, and they make me feel like I am getting closer to where everyone else is. It’s kind of funny, because often, I don’t have any idea what they mean. I mean, look at this, I copied this down for you (it’s from “A throw of the dice never will abolish chance” by Stéphane Mallarmé):

This poem provokes so many questions. But right now, the strangeness is soothing. The giant cascading words, the giant CHANCE, the “identical neutrality of the abyss.”

I’ve also been practicing cello a lot, although I haven’t really been going to lessons. Since my grades dropped so much, Mom and Dad decided they wanted me to focus on schoolwork and they’ve paused the lessons. If my first report card this coming year is good – B’s at the very least, they said – I get to continue the lessons. I’m not sure if stopping my lessons worked out the way they wanted to, because I still spent a lot of time playing, just practicing old songs or trying out new ones on my own. I learned to play “Bohemian Rhapsody” for you! I played it in front of your grave – did you hear?

Cello also helps me the way the poetry does, to blur the lines between my space and others’. Mom and Dad can tell, I think, so they can’t bring themselves to stop me. I’ll try harder when school starts. I miss having a teacher to help me improve. I also don’t want Mom and Dad to worry so much, and schoolwork is one of the easier things to control. (They are concerned that I never go out with friends and that I eat lunch alone. I tell them that I eat in Ms. Fajans’ room, so I’m not alone. From time to time, Leela Mehta joins us even though she has her own group of friends. We don’t talk much, but I found I don’t mind her presence while I read quietly. Mom and Dad do not consider this friendship.)

I have poetry and I have cello and I have you, even though I’ve been neglecting our correspondence. Tell me more about Iswy the Bookseller! I wish I could see those maps. They sound fantastic. Maybe they aren’t wrong, but the inaccuracies are hidden to us and the maps would reveal them. Is there one of home? Perhaps you could describe it to me, and I can explore based off of your descriptions.

Maybe it is because I am still alive, but Ygritte’s sorrow... does not perplex me, exactly, but I wonder that she should be distraught to see her son again. I would like to see you again, and I think that when I die, I would want to have my family around me again eventually. Do people always find each other again after death?

Oh, I should tell you that I think I have seen the floating graves, and not just in my dreams this time. Another strange thing happened to me a while back. I haven’t seen the girl on fire again, and I don’t know much about those questions I was supposedly asking, but I go to the Well of Loneliness often. Also, I haven’t seen a golden day since the one I wrote about, though I’m unsure if that is due to the weather or just due to me. Anyway, one time, I went to the Well of Loneliness after school. I don’t remember when exactly, but the days were beginning to get longer. This time, I did not sit against the well but instead found shade beneath a tree and sat facing it. I started reading my book – it was No Matter Where I Travel, I Go to Nowhereland by Mascha Kaléko – but I didn’t get very far before my attention was caught by a restless movement above the well.

I lifted my head and saw blue-green sprites leaping out of the well in a coordinated fashion, like they were performing a choreographed dance. I looked around to see if anyone else was around, but I didn’t see anyone. The sprites chittered melodically as they danced, twirling this way and that, until they noticed me watching and froze. For a moment I was afraid that my attention started them and they’d disappear, but curiously they turned toward me (or seemed to, anyway, their lack of features resembling a face made it hard to tell) and bowed. I lowered my head to them in response, because it felt like the right thing to do. They were delighted by this and continued to dance in a greater frenzy before. They left the immediate parameters of the well and darted about the clearing, even swirling around my head. I wanted to join them, but something in me warned against it.

At a signal imperceptible to me, the sprites all froze again and winked out of sight. As I wondered if I had imagined the entire display, a ghostly, writhing figure twisted up out of the well. Its scales were a bluish, matte color, but they seemed like they would shine if sunlight could touch them. It looked like an unnaturally elongated lizard – a Tatzlwurm? It, or its specter, hovered above the mouth of the well, struggling and railing in a futile resistance against something I couldn’t see. It noticed me after a few moments and lunged at me. I scrambled backwards, but I didn’t have to. Something was holding it back, probably the same thing it was trying to escape. Then, as suddenly as the sprites, the Tatzlwurm vanished.

In its place, floating graves slowly materialized. I think they might have been the same as your floating graves. Green roses clung to the graves’ sides, as moss drapes over headstones. A sea of them stretched beyond the edge of the well to some mysterious vanishing point and out to the sides, maybe past the sides of the clearing. I don’t know. I was mesmerized, immersed. I felt like they surrounded me, though I had not moved. I closed my eyes and felt the gentle vibrato of the graves swaying in this invisible ocean. I listened them hum, faintly at first and then louder so that I could hear nothing else, not my own thoughts, nor my consciousness. My self was dispersed among the graves; their music absorbed my heartbeat.

I don’t know how long that lasted, but a rolling fire started consuming the graves at the far edge of this sea and its roar snapped me back together into my person. The flames twisted together with a violence and fury that reminded me of the Tatzlwurm and spun into a bird with sparkling seafoam eyes. Its fire-feathers gleamed with silver and gold, flashing with each flap of its wings. A song emanated from the flames, vibrant, powerful, and uplifting. As it sang (projected song?), the Firebird soared upward and disappeared. The song’s notes lingered in the air long after the Firebird left and I sat unmoving in the clearing even longer after.

I stayed there, still and insensible, until Dad found me. He yelled at me at the clearing, was angrily silent on the drive home, and then yelled at me some more; Mom yelled at me and then cried and mentioned you and cried harder. (I guess I should also mention that, while this was technically after school, I also skipped school that day to go to the public library and the principal called home.) I listened to them, said sorry many times, ate my cold dinner, and went to bed soon after, my mind still on the extraordinary pageantry I had witnessed.

Mom is calling me to go eat, so I’ll wrap up. Here’s a short bit from a poem I like, from Mascha Kaléko. It’s from “Mein Schönstes Gedicht.” I translated these lines (with help from Google Translate).

Mein schönstes Gedicht?
Ich schrieb es nicht.
Aus tiefsten Tiefen stieg es.
Ich schwieg es.

My most beautiful poem?
I never wrote it.
From the deepest depths it rushed up.
I hushed it.

Love (and apologies),
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[personal profile] exitseraphim
Dear Ilyana,

I do not envy you that meal of butter. Thinking about it makes me want to throw up a bit in my mouth. Christophe seems to have led an interesting (after?)life, even if he is a bit of a glum chum. And Azra, well. I suppose you can excuse someone whose identity is pinned to pulling people out of graves a bit of weirdness. Do you see him often now?

I visited the old well in the Vesper Woods, the one that you named the Well of Loneliness after the one in "Donal Óg." We had Friday off and the unusual good weather had persisted, so I decided to make it out into the woods again. The last time I had gone was when Dad and I found your body. I spent the entire day there, sitting by the well with my notebook. “Well of Loneliness” seems pretty appropriate for that, doesn’t it? I don’t know, maybe “well of solitude” would work better. I didn’t feel lonely exactly. Sad without you. Lonely without you. (I wish we could watch German Expressionist movies together at the silent film near your house.) But I’m often sad and lonely and it wasn’t as bad when I could feel the stone’s chill seeping through the cloth on my back and watching the way the brightness of the sun grew and waned throughout the day.

When I left in the morning, a thick, gnarled fog clung to the leaves and branches like cotton wound around them. It was hard to see anything but bright headlights of the few cars in the streets when I was walking to the woods. And do you remember how mysterious and magical everything seems when the fog obscures everything like this? Even convenience stores seem more intriguing. And then there are the trees, their autumn colors struggling to shine through the fog, not quite deadened but faded, farther away from our world in a way. That morning, the sun burnt away the fog so swiftly and when the gentle rays of early morning sunlight bathed the trees in its radiance, everything seemed golden. The golden undertones in each branch, each leaf were highlighted for a transient, brilliant half-hour before the dawn settled into day.

It was during that half hour that I spotted the girl on fire again. She was hovering beyond the clearing, partially obscured by the thin stalks of the trees. I noticed her eyes first, that bright seafoam color so unlike any a normal human would have. They were the sharpest, clearest part of her. Everything else fizzed and faded and as much as I would try to focus on her figure in the trees it would blur. I can’t tell you anything really about what she looked like, other than those irises, bright as glass beneath the sun, and the vague miasmic flames that enveloped her body. I’m trying to remember, not even to find words for the images, just the images themselves, but I can only see her eyes.

I spotted her before I noticed she had been watching me, but once I looked upon her face, our eyes locked and I knew she wanted me to follow her. So I got up and walked towards her slowly. Something about her made me wary of startling her, even though I knew she knew I was there. As soon as I was within three yards of her though, her image wavered and reappeared farther into the woods. I started walking toward her more quickly, but each time I got close to her, she would disappear again, faster and faster, until I was running after her flickering image. I’m not sure how long I ran, but it was long enough for my lungs to ache and my feet to feel flattened and sore against the fallen leaves trodden into the dirt. My eyes locked onto hers and I just followed their light as they shuddered in and out of existence; I paid no attention to the groves I ran through and I have no idea how we ended up where we did.

When she finally stood still, I stumbled to a stop before her. And we were there. By the river. A few miles outside of Fairview, where I found your body.

“Why did you bring me here?” I asked the girl.

She smiled, revealing sharpened teeth. “Here is where you can begin to find the answers you seek.”

“But what questions am I supposed to be asking?” I glanced around me and found nothing unusual about the area. It was grassy. There were a few rocks, here and there.

“What questions are you asking,” she corrected unhelpfully. “The answers themselves are not here, but you can find their beginnings.” She waded into the river as she spoke, never breaking eye contact with me.

“Wait, what are you doing?” I called after her. Involuntarily, I felt a lump rising in my throat, a cold, sensation of fear at seeing someone enter a body of water.

She didn’t respond, but turned away from me, walking farther into the river, submerging more and more of herself in the water (completely unaffected, though, by the force of the current) until her head disappeared below the surface.

I don’t know, Ilyana. I guess I’m asking a lot of questions now. What was all that about? What do you think? What do I do?

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[personal profile] exitseraphim
Dear Ilyana,

I’m glad to hear you have people (if that’s even the right word to use) helping you get settled in. It sounds like your apartment complex attracts a pretty unusual crowd. School will hardly be as interesting as dragonbats (what do they look like, exactly?), but I’ll keep you updated. Christophe seems nice, if a bit proper. Well, proper people are easier to deal with than improper people, I think. And – you know – I should have known to put more things in your coffin. I would have put your Killjoys shirt and ipod in as well as your Cibo Matto CD.

Mom took me to get new notebooks yesterday. I really hope I fill them up this year. I never do, but it seems so disorganized to keep using the same notebooks when it’s a new school year. Mom asked if I felt ready for school to start tomorrow, and I shrugged. I mean, it'll happen no matter what, so what's the point of having feelings about it?

We also went to get my class schedule: English, algebra II, chemistry, world history, P.E., German II, supervised study. I don’t know much about any of the other teachers, but I have Ms. Fajans for English again. I think I’ve told you about her. She takes more interest in me than she does in the other students. She worries about me. I know because once, after class, she said that if I wanted to talk to anyone confidentially, she could help me find recommendations. Her girlfriend is a therapist, she said. I said thank you, but it's unnecessary, and she didn't bring it up again. I liked that. Although – sometimes when her worry becomes especially suffocating and patronizing, I want to resent her. The problem with that is that I can see her point of view. She just doesn’t understand that I’m okay with not having any friends. Well, other than you. In any case, it'll be nice to have one fewer new person to have to meet this year.

I met a lot of people at your funeral. Family members from far away, your friends from school and art class, etc. Dedushka and Babushka came all the way from Brighton Beach. I should have said more about the funeral in my last letter, but I had to end it there. You understand.

It was a small ceremony. A lot of people read about you in the papers and wanted to come, but Aunt Polina didn't want to have an open ceremony. She fought about it with your dad. He thought there wasn't much harm in having a few reporters there, since it's an event of public interest, but Aunt Polina threw a fit. "Our family's pain isn't some goddamn theater spectacle for people to gawk at!" I could hear her screaming from my room. What was I doing then? Nothing, I think, just sitting there listening.

She's right though. Uncle Jeroen doesn't have to hear all the whispers and gossip that had been flying around since he's been staying in a lot. Once, when Aunt Polina and I were on our way to the funeral home, some lady on the street yelled at Aunt Polina for letting you go into the woods by yourself, saying that she deserved this. It's quiet here, you know that, so this is the biggest local news of the summer. You're a celebrity. You always said you would be.

Anyway, back to the funeral. Mr. Tully, the funeral director, was very helpful. Remember that one time we planned our funerals? I found that page in my notebook and showed it to him and he said he'd do his best to make it happen. Obviously your parents weren't too into the whole elephants on parade idea, but we did hold it at the parish with the pretty stained glass windows. (They were okay with it not being a religious ceremony. Told you they'd be fine with it. Money's money.) Aunt Polina made a speech. I brought my cello and played "Sarabande" from Suite 2 in D minor by Bach, the song from that weird black and white Swedish movie we watched last winter break. People cried. Mom and Dad both said a few things. We watched a slideshow. There were a lot of photos of us. Uncle Jeroen made another speech. They closed the casket and put a white cloth over it and provided different colored sharpies so people could write you notes. I took a photo of it after everyone got a chance to write something. It was really colorful. I think you would have liked it. We went to the cemetery in a procession and you were lowered into the ground. Your headstone's all right. It's grey.

Sorry this isn't the greatest description; it's all so vivid to me that it's like a movie on repeat with surround sound in my mind but then when I start writing things down -- well, there was this one moment, when your dad was speaking and I sort of stopped listening since those platitudes don't say much about you and I could see in Uncle Jeroen's expression that he knew that too, when the light filtering through a stained glass window illuminated swirling particles of dust in a direct beam upon your face, you didn't look angelic but you looked yourself. Despite the make-up, despite all the work the embalmer had to do to make you look the way you did before you drowned. She succeeded at making you look like you, but only at that because it was all wrong really. She made a doll in your semblance, but the light washed away all the falseness and in that one moment you were you. Then the moment passed and time and sound and space and linearity flooded back and you were gone for good.

I don't want school to start tomorrow.

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[personal profile] exitseraphim
Dear Ilyana,

Summer is almost over. It doesn’t feel like it is almost fall, since it is unbearably hot and the sky is blue and cloudless every day. It’s blindingly bright when I look outside, but most of the time I just sit on the bay window and read. (Right now, I’m reading Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces.) School starts in a week. I haven’t talked to someone other than Mom or Dad in so long, so I’m writing to you. It’ll be good practice with two-way communication.

I didn’t end up doing much baking after. It seemed wrong since it was something we were going to do together. Also, don’t tell anyone, but when I tried to bake cookies for Mom’s birthday, I would feel an urge to slam my hands down on the hot grills in the oven and watch what would happen. It scares me though, so I figured it’d be best to stay away from the oven. I also can’t really go swimming anymore, even though you went in a river and not in a community pool with lifeguards and everything. Mom says I’ll get over it. Dad volunteered to sit with me by the community pool a bit every day until I felt better, but I don’t think I’m even ready for that. I could see his disappointment, but I think he understood.

After all, he saw your body too. Before the mortician put make-up on you and put you in that flouncy baby blue dress that you hate and such. We were with the search party that found you washed up downriver, past the Vesper Woods, a few miles out of Fairview. It was pretty far from where you left your clothes. I spotted you first.

Your chest and stomach were distended, like you were discolored, patchy skin stretched over an oblong balloon. The medical examiner said that the patchiness was due to blood pooling in different places. A bit of skin was missing from your face – maybe the fish in the river nibbled off pieces or maybe small pebbles in the current chipped away at your skin in the four days it took to find you. I thought you would be stiffer, like when you see murder victims on crime shows, with their skin all taut and waxy, but you were surprisingly fleshy. More flesh than human. It could have also been your face. When we found you, your eyes were closed but your mouth hung open and your protruding tongue looked more like a thick slab of meat trying to escape than a normal tongue. And the smell – once the shock subsided and my senses returned, I threw up. That didn’t help the smell. I wanted to touch you (is that weird?), but as I reached out, Dad grabbed my hand and shook his head.

While the police in the search party filled out paperwork, Dad called Aunt Polina. Dad didn’t want to look at you. He just glanced at you and flinched away, and then he would look at the woods, at the rocks in the river, slightly above you, at the sky, but never at your body. I couldn’t take my eyes off of you. That’s why I can remember everything so clearly, even though it’s been a month and a half. A medical examiner came. They put you in a body bag and I watched as each part of you disappeared. Then they took you to the morgue.

Dad and I walked home from the Vesper Woods. It took a few hours. Mom and Aunt Polina took the car so they could head directly over to the morgue, and we wanted to walk anyway. Then when I got home – well, it’s not that interesting. I thought you’d like to know how your body ended up though, how it really looked.


May 2015

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