Letters

  • What Found is

    It all began with Room to expand; I was searching for stories for the record when I had the idea to ask a friend to make up one for me. When I first asked Luke Sutherland, a very good friend and an excellent writer, who had been shortlisted for the Withbread Book Ward in 1998, he asked me back if I would be upset if instead of writing a text he sent me a letter he found on the streets of a market in Barcelona. Initially the idea did not convince me, but after reading it I was completely thrilled by the letter and it's tragedy and I decided to use it... keep on reading

 

Principles of Survival

 

GATHER. Be on alert for items of value at all times. Think creatively about multitude of uses for goods whose full scope of utility may not be self-apparent. A sharp knife can be a weapon, an instrument for food preparation, or an apparatus for surgical procedures.

 

Calculate the best times for scavenging. Weather can be your friend or your foe, as can the position of the sun. Have means of transporting bulky objects. A smart satchel may feel snug against the chest, but a wheelbarrow accommodates all shapes and sizes.

 

A thoroughly indexed store room can be the difference between life and death. A panicked mind thinks in classifications, not nomenclature, hence, a category system, not an alphabetical one, is the ideal.

 

PROTECT. There is no such thing as a complacent survivor. Assume the worst every day, and prepare as though your home will be under siege.

 

Geography is key. Open space is the favored theater of your enemy, providing maximum inroads for attack. A crowded landscape on a flat plain is best. Consider a mouse. He evades you in small spaces.

 

Counter-intuitively, a well-stocked arsenal can be one’s undoing. Should an invader take control of your space, the instruments of death that were once yours can become his, and the victor becomes the victim on a playing field of his own design. Maintain only weapons that can be kept on one’s person, and let no one close.

 

SUSTAIN. Waking nightmares and dark dreams can represent an insidious threat. Contemplate habits that encourage mental stability. Exercise steadily. Eat regularly.

 

Sleep consistently. Ritual and regime are your gods in this place. A sound body supports a sound mind.

 

It can be so easy for the gremlins to sneak in. There are nooks and crannies in one’s mind that can never be sealed. Smash those gremlins. Smash them into oblivion.

 

Ancient practices are the most potent, for they have withstood the test of time. Tai Chi brings strength and balance. It is not by happenstance that practitioners of this discipline enjoyed the greatest lifespans under the reign of Hongwu.

 

Beware the black bugs. One must keep them from burrowing under the skin at all costs. Wind and fire wheels.

 

PLAY. Even the conscientious survivor can make time for some good old fashioned silliness. Bounce a ball, dear reader. Recite the soliloquy of the Dane. Sing a song of sixpence, a pocket full of rye.

 

Once, while on a scavenge mission, I found an old clown suit in a chest of drawers. I wore it home and even applied make-up to my face. Imagine me, prancing about in a polka-dotted jump suit with my rifle at my side. If my friends could see me now!

 

What was the name of the clown character with the wisps of orange hair? Bonzo? Or was that the monkey? I’ve always found that to be a strange word: “monkey”. Say it a hundred times and it becomes gibberish. Monkey monkey monkey.

 

REMEMBER. If you were here, you would hear me laughing now, because I am realizing that this is a perfect segue into my next bit of wisdom: remembering. Oh, dear reader, it is so important to remember. Think back, as far as you can, reaching into the archives of time for those moments that are slipping away.

 

My first kiss. Judith Kent, fifth grade, in the woods behind the school. I had no idea what to do with my tongue so I thrust it into her mouth and made her gag. What a joke! But I remember her dress, yellow, with sunkissed flowers. I will never forget that dress.

 

And Tommy Nichols, the thick fisted bully who tormented me on my way to school each day. Later I heard he had robbed a store and gone to jail. Tony Markman, my high school best friend. My heart broke when he went down. And so many others. Christopher May, Mattias Schelbert, James Zoccoli, rhymes with broccoli. I miss those guys.

 

But Susan. Oh, Susan. She was the light that guided me. Her tiny loving fingers intertwined with mine. Soft kisses, soft skin, soft spoken. My tongue knew what to do when I was with Susan. She wanted to be married. Why didn’t I just grant her that small wish? I looked for her house once, but I could not remember where it was. Near the highway? The airport? The shopping center? Was there ever even a house at all? Was there ever even a Susan?

 

Stop that now! Of course there was a Susan. I have drawn her face so many times that the image is sometimes all there is. Where are those drawings now? Were her eyes brown or green? Hazel? Grey? Some women’s eyes change along with the seasons. Was that Susan? Her hair was red. That I know. How could I forget red hair? The way it shimmied against her yellow dress, the one with the sunkissed flowers. Or was that Judith? Judith. Another word that sounds strange. Judith Judith Judith Judith Judith.

 

PLAN. I was going to write about planning, but now I can’t remember what it was I hoped to convey. I wish I could remember where I put those drawings. Maybe they’re in Susan’s house with the clown suit. Her eyes were green. Of course they were green. How did I forget that? And it was Susan who wore the yellow dress with the sunkissed flowers. Why not? It is my memory, after all. We kissed in the woods behind the school, and her tiny loving fingers intertwined with mine. We were married on a hill on a Sunday, with the sun setting over the ocean, and the brass band played When the Saints Come Marching In. My mother was there, and my father, though he had passed many years before. I still can’t believe he wore that tie. When it was done, we held each other’s hands, kicked off our shoes and ran into the water. Her yellow dress with the sunkissed flowers clung to her body, and her golden hair fell about her green/grey eyes. She looked at me with a second sight that peered into the cosmos, and she promised that she would never leave me. Not until the end of time. I hear her now. She’s just come in. Forgive me, dear reader, for I must go now to greet my wife.

 

Written by Daniel Noah

 

Foreign landscapes

 

Yesterday the doorbell rang. I took a long time deciding whether to get up and follow the sound of the doorbell. Should I take the trouble of walking all the way to the door, despite the shrill protestations of my intuition? Don’t go; don’t open it; there won’t be anybody there; there won’t be anything at all!But, I did go. I opened the door, even though the doorbell had ceased to ring a while ago… a long time ago. I couldn’t even remember the sound the doorbell had made. Even under oath, or undergoing a third degree interrogation, I would have been unable to emulate the sound of that doorbell. I would have made a complete fool of myself trying. So, there I stood, leaning against the door, peering out into the hall, seeing, well, nobody. What else? Then something remarkable occurred: Loneliness stepped into my apartment. You wouldn’t recognize her if you tried. She was all clean and dressed up, and there was a scent that seemed to wrap itself around my astonished expression as she breezed past me. She sat down on a chair in a room which I had, so far, reserved for other purposes.

 

 

Actually, I didn’t care all that much. Looking as she did, I wouldn’t have barred her from any of my rooms. She made herself at home, and during the next few hours I catered to her every wish. She even let out a sigh when I declared myself unable to serve the particular kind of tea she desired. But, I wasn’t sure I understood her correctly. I seemed to be doing everything right, despite the fact that I was rather confused and generally at a loss, mostly acting on gut feelings. Later, after we had had food and drinks, and several topics of conversation had been exhaustively covered, she virtually attacked me, screaming with excitement and arousal. I found this to be a little too much, but she scratched, bit and swallowed some of me. She screamed like a banshee, then laughed, giggled, snorted, and finally grinned before she fell fast asleep. She woke up hours later — at another time, that is. Looking at my watch, I didn’t know what I saw anymore. I was unable to read any of the numbers. You forgot, didn’t you? First time this happened in my life. Was that some kind of sign? That’s not a question you would want to ask somebody who’s in the process of waking up. Next to me, Loneliness woke up. She looked at me with her sad eyes, breaking my heart.

 

 

It was as if she was thinking, “Damn! I am not enough for you! Although, I felt as if, for the first time since the last sun, somebody really understood me”. It would have been great if she wouldn’t have thought that. That pure and uninhibited look in her eyes would have consoled me to no end; I could have forgotten a number is a proper reason to mourn. I don’t know anybody who wouldn’t understand that! There she was, next to me, breathing deeply, but not at all amused by my having momentarily blamed her. Well, this was only the beginning. How should I know if that was right or not? You can’t take things back, even if it would have gone another way. I wanted our relationship to be devoid of misunderstandings. After a while, bleakness set in. Then I only felt sorry for her — not for the bleakness. Tough luck. I thought, “If only more people were around. If somebody else would join us – maybe Humor or one of his relatives – then things would definitely be different. As a threesome we might be able to…” But things being as they were, there was no reason to stay. I had stayed in this apartment way too long anyway. There was more air outside, and I was not worried about Loneliness being unable to rub the sleep out of her delicate little eyes. I turned my head from right to left, and back, and then once more. Then I closed my eyes and started all over. I came up for air, my face all red. I punched leaves off the trees. I spiced up other people’s moods. I crowned my intoxication with laughter. “If the soul sizzles and cracks,” I started to say, “then that is not because… If the soul lies across the paper… If the soul… If the soul…” Yeah, what about it? Lost in reverie? I really can’t be bothered to think about this right now.

 

 

In a corner lay a cat that was closer to fatal hypothermia than to hunger, or to the keenest reflex. I lied to the cat and made up a weather forecast that made her whiskers quiver. A white lie is all it takes, I admitted to myself. The cat laughed with a reedy voice, as if there were no tomorrow. She had lit a fire in her eagerness, which I could only trace back to my excellent storytelling. I was proud. I had a new female friend. We warmed our nails over the flames of a tender fire. She said she counted the caskets according to the Grudgefire. Had I understood her correctly? It appeared to be unnecessary to tell each other our names. That was a given. “How much longer do you plan on running away?” the cat asked me, as she passed water. I am not running away! “And what about your visitor? She is waiting at home for you! Did you really think I didn’t know about her?” My breath caught. To be perplexed doesn’t begin to describe it. Even less so for a cat. “That does not contribute to ascertaining the truth of the matter.” she purred serenely.

 

 

The other day I forgot to sit down. I came into an auditorium and there were seats. Seating accommodations, a voice whispered to me. I think it was my own voice. I was unable to give in to it. Mind you, it was not my intention to stand. It was not out of spite. And neither was I absent (or) minded. I can’t quite recall the feeling – it’s, after all, not really now that I am telling you about this – but it felt like a paroxysm, like trampling down a dirt floor, like… Oh well, I guess it’s completely unimportant! They took me outside and reprimanded me. I let it go, and that was that. As usual, I was unable to articulate a single coherent sentence, but that didn’t really matter. My opinion was the least important in these worthless moments. A short while later my prostrate body slipped on fish with their mouths wide open.

 

 

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Fan Letter

 

Dear Hauschka/Mr Bertelmann,

 

 

I could be anybody, and maybe, in the end, it’s better you believe that. Though, I must tell you, I really am who I appear to be, which I guess is just about as strange an opening gambit as you’re likely ever to hear.

 

 

Seriously, what were the chances of this? I was coming back from the store after picking up milk for the macaroni and cheese sauce I was making, when I heard music drifting out of an open window in the next neighbourhood. Piano notes like the pounding of great raindrops, and in amongst those what sounded like drums, dulcimers, sitars, xylophones, musicboxes, clockworks, the wow, buzz and flutter of bluebottles, moths and starlings trapped under the thing’s lid. Ours is a tiny town. Sounds like this have no place here. Metal and pop hold sway. Rap and classical can raise hackles; I kid you not. But there it was, out there…and deep inside me.

 

 

I stood under that window a long time. The bricks against my back were still warm with the day’s last rays of sun. The milk soured in my hand. Some songs don’t leave you when they’ve ended. So it was with these. I shouted up. An old man came to the window, with a kind of hangdog Jewish look about him. In truth, I am not the guy who, on first glance, you’d much consider talking to, nevermind inviting into your home. Although, usually when people hear I am training to teach elementary school they chill: this guy was no different. Long story short, he told me he was listening to Hauschka’s Room to Expand. I went right out and bought it the next day, and stayed up all night listening, but (no offence to you and your skills as a composer), more importantly, reading and re-reading the found letter that had been reproduced in the CD booklet.

 

 

 

It was written to me by my best ever friend, M.

 

 

 

My son is almost eleven years old. I had wanted a girl because I am a boy, and I was my father’s only child. Up until I was six years old, whenever he threw me into the air — which he did a lot — he’d always catch me. The guy was well over six feet with arms long enough to wrap around a redwood. One day, something happened; I don’t know what, but he simply stopped catching me. There was other stuff I cannot go into, but that’s how it began, and how it went on until I was fourteen, weighing one hundred and seventy pounds and more than capable of punching above my weight. By then he and I were not speaking at all, which in some ways was the worst of it. How do you unlearn that? How do I not become my own son’s executioner?

 

 

During my wife’s pregnancy I became unbearable. Back in the day, she’d plucked me from the void; more luck than I had any right to expect. I was not a pretty thing, Volker. I dined on fire and crucified a great many innocents. My crew was made of holidaying killers. We had the smell of Death Row about us. Prison cells were a feature of my late teens/early twenties. And then V appeared in her ancient Duco baseball cap, cut-off jeans and stilettos, voice soft as falling snow. How could I find her attraction to me anything other than un-fucking-fathomable? You tell me. From the off, I tried to prove to her how much she actually hated me. But she dodged every bullet and came back, redoubled. That love, almost as frightening as my old man’s madness, was the motor of my total meltdown.

 

 

I was out joyriding when our son was born. They gave me Zoloft. I OD’d on it, saw spiders, and attacked V while she had the boy in her arms. Cops came. V saved me a second time. No charges were brought, but she threw me out. “Go.” she said. “Do whatever it is you must to siphon off that poison in your heart, however long it takes, just come back to us.”

 

 

So, I left, and closed the few thousand miles I’d put between my father and me. Did I honestly think I would find him there in the old hometown nearly twenty years on? That we’d sit down to beers, unravel the past and walk away reconciled?

 

 

He was long gone. What I did find was a place barely changed, still rich with the gifts that’d kept me alive when going home only ever meant a sad ending. There were shipwrecks there, ancient tombs piled with the corpses of kings; ploughmen were forever unearthing musket balls and grapeshot from their fields. In summer the sun never set; you could hear the land sigh as autumn tumbled out of the hills and snowflakes fell so slowly they never seemed land. Every second weekend offshoremen would file home along the high street, their hands glimmering with fish scales. Think of me, turned teenage, cartwheeling into that wonderland: smoking my first joint on a rowboat, asking out the captain of the school netball team and her saying, ‘yes,’ as though that answer was the most obvious thing in the world, clocking the local café’s Space Invader, winning my first fuck on a bet that I couldn’t eat four raw onions in an hour.

 

 

 

But going back, I couldn’t stay.

 

 

 

My meanderings took me to Copenhagen and Ungdomshuset — a place you might have heard about recently, as it was sold to some religious sect and torn down, and the kids who’d devoted so much of their lives to it — quite rightly — rioted. I met M there: skinny, mixed-race, fey, coy, girlish — just the kind of guy who, even weeks before, would’ve found himself under my boot. As it was, he stunned me, the whirlwind that he was. That sense of the whole world coming through him, unfiltered. He’d get high just because the wind blew at a certain time, in a certain way. I once saw him cry when an old man offered him candy. He’d treat you like a god if you so much as smiled at him.

 

 

The things I tried out: nail varnish and whatnot, just fun really. My point is that M taught me how to live again, how to see for real, and by doing so put a time limit on our friendship. Waking up beside him one hallucinatory morning after, I realised that, at bottom, I am a meat-eating kind of guy who loves his wife. It was the second greatest of M’s gifts to me. The first being the burning desire I had to go home, and finally knowing where that was. If I regret anything, it is that I left then and there, while he was sleeping. I returned to V and my son. We’re still going. Things are good.

 

 

I have read quite a bit about you, Mr Bertelmann. I have seen you interviewed on YouTube. You look like a gentle, trustworthy guy. Doubtless you have no idea where M is. Having heard a little about me, I understand entirely if you do not want to give me “airtime”, but I wonder, could you see your way to pasting this email inside your next release as you did with M’s letter? You never know what might come of it.

 

 

 

Wishing you only good things,

 

 

 

A fan.

 

 

 

If you’re out there M, get in touch. I still have the same phone number. It can’t be like it was, but so little is different. And for the record, whatever’s gold does last. I know, because a whole dozen years on, having spent only a few months in your company, you are as real and dear to me now as you were then.

 

 

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Mechanical Perfection

 

It is the embodiment of mechanical perfection. So what could there possibly be to improve upon? A sophisticated process called the ‘key action mechanism’ results in a little hammer striking a taut string. The length, width and tension of this string have been expertly designed to sound at a very specific pitch. Its vibration resonates throughout the perfectly constructed body of the piano and produces clear, undistorted sound – the result of a long tradition of instrument making and the efforts of successive generations to refine the distinctive tonal features of the piano.

 

 

One might conclude that a perfect instrument has been created and is simply waiting to be played by talented virtuosos. Alternatively, one might decide to change the rules of the game. This route has been taken by a number of adventurous musicians and bold composers whose initial experiments were carried out in settings far removed from traditional concert venues and gradually moved into recognised avant-garde circles. Piano preparation can be traced back at least to Erik Satie, whose score for “Le Piège de Méduse” (1914) called for pieces of paper to be placed on the piano strings. Then came Heitor Villa-Lobos and Henry Cowell, a Californian musician who plucked the piano strings like a zither. Cowell’s experiments in turn influenced John Cage, who in 1938 began rewriting the rules of how a piano could be played and how it could sound. He wedged bolts between the piano strings, sometimes with loosely screwed nuts to create additional vibration, sometimes without. Small pieces of plastic or erasers served the same purpose of creating new and unusual tones, while objects such as plates, newspapers or pieces of metal placed directly on the strings added interesting percussive elements to the resulting sound. Cage reformulated a problem that had existed since the invention of the hammer piano, namely that it is essentially a percussion instrument; he skilfully circumvented the question by serving up answers in the form of sounds that frequently recalled an Indonesian gamelan orchestra. His rustling, drumming and harmonious resonance of diverse objects inspired a long line of other composers and musicians – among them Arvo Pärt, Steffen Schleiermacher, Frangis Ali-Sade, Edison Denissow and Philip Corner, who was partly responsible for the Fluxus art movement’s obsession with the piano.

 

 

It would be easy to localise the playful and experimental within the realm of the serious and soon to be academic. What Fluxus tried to accomplish with subversion was achieved by others with remarkable panache: in the 1940s, two tutors from the renowned Juilliard School of Music formed a piano duo (Ferrante & Teicher) and began to smuggle ideas from Cowell and Cage into the world of popular music, using the piano as a mechanical synthesizer to create entire soundscapes. Their record company eventually had to issue a press release to confirm that they had indeed only used two pianos to create these remarkable sounds. In the 1950s, far removed from the academic world, a German pianist called Fritz Schulz-Reichel (whose nickname was “Schräger Otto” – Crazy Otto) achieved star status with a device he had invented called the “Tipsy Wire Box”. Crazy Otto’s ragtime sounds, modified with a steel hammer, went on to be so successful in the USA that he even got a mention in a Grateful Dead song. Keyboardist Tom Constanten also introduced prepared piano sounds into the eclectic psychedelia of that band’s musical output in the last part of their 1968 track “That’s It For the Other One”. A few months earlier on the east coast, John Cale (who, like Constanten, was classically trained) had woven a chain of paper clips around his piano strings on the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties”. And in 1975, Peter Baumann of the early synthesizer band Tangerine Dream suddenly played a prepared piano towards the end of a side-long track on the album “Rubycon”. What was happening here in the light of a self-proclaimed avant-garde, sometimes closer to and sometimes further away from Cage, in later years often recalled the uninhibited, pragmatic experiments of Crazy Otto or Ferrante & Teicher, and the mechanical synthesizer actually held up surprisingly well. Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac used the Crazy Otto effect on the ballad “Sara” as well as on the toe-tapping track “Not That Funny”, and in 1979, Brian Eno looped the sound of a prepared piano to create a rhythmic framework for David Bowie’s “African Night Flight”. The prepared piano now occupied a fixed place in a new, progressive and dynamic realm of pop music. That same year it took centre stage on the Flying Lizards’ “Money”, where – accompanied by pounding snare drums – it defined the sound of this catchy version of Barrett Strong’s R&B classic. In 1980, Jerry Dammers of the Specials could be heard plucking the strings of his piano on “Rat Race”, and in early 1982, the New York hipster band The Waitresses used eccentric prepared piano sounds on “No Guilt”.

 

 

In the 1990s and 2000s the prepared piano made an appearance in many different areas of pop music: Tori Amos, Eddie Van Halen, Coldplay, Ben Folds and Brad Mehldau are among those who have incorporated its sounds. Beyond its effects-oriented use as a musical device, the techniques and stylistic aspects of the prepared piano are once again being employed in pop-avant-garde and retro-avant-garde contexts – whether by pianists such as Terry Adams from the band NRBQ, who used a prepared piano on several tracks of his 2008 album “Love Letter to Andromeda”, or by electronic musicians like Richard D. James (aka Aphex Twin), who in 2001 fed sounds from a prepared piano through a MIDI keyboard on his album “Drukqs”. In recent years, prepared piano sounds have developed a life of their own as samples, but the instrument itself has also maintained its niche position in live music performance. In 2009, Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields composed impressive pieces for the Broadway musical “Coraline”, while the experimental band Matmos used manipulated piano tones amongst all manner of sound-producing devices to create a disconcertingly dense atmosphere on their album “The Rose Has Teeth In The Mouth Of A Beast”. At the same time, the prepared piano continues to thrive in experimental music that sits between styles, genres and traditions. The work of artists such as Benoit Delbecq, Eve Risser and the late Esbjörn Svensson, for example, is often filed under ‘jazz’, even though each has explored their own musical spheres. Every autumn since 2005, Volker Bertelmann (aka Hauschka) has been organising the Approximation Festival; held over a few days in Düsseldorf, it provides a platform for anyone who is interested in exploring and expanding the seemingly infinite possibilities of the prepared piano and continues to be fascinated by its multifaceted soundscapes.

 

Oliver Tepel

 

 

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Love Letter

 

 

Nothing golden ever lasts anyway, but I hope you understand that I put everything I had into making stars shine out of our thing. Though, I suppose that’s like saying, “I’m the most careful driver in the world. I will never have an accident!” Those words on their own sound undeniable, but what nails you in the end is the OTHER guy, the one who’s driving his car like it’s a fighter plane. BAM! Like you. I’m not even into metal! Growing up it was always Stevie Wonder and Boney M, or Supertramp (my FAVES!), but somehow you blindsided me with that TOO! Holy Christ, coming at someone from a dozen different directions at once like you do, you make them into spectators of their own lives, and they see the world as never before. It’s like how you taught Valby the meaning of summer. You had me and that place totally dazzled. Then there was me, waking up that morning to you not there, the three days I stayed in bed waiting like it was one long morning, and you’d just gone out for coffee and would be right back. But, you never showed, even though all your stuff was still on the floor. And you’d left the top off that bottle of water (which I still have). Then the three days slipped into a week, and then a month. I was so sad at first that I couldn’t move, and then so angry I just up and went looking for you, not knowing where the fuck to start, but hanging onto something I heard about Dalí or Cezanne or someone going down to the south of France or Spain for the LIGHT which is so different from the light in Northern Europe. I kind of thought that with all the wondrous LIGHT you unwrapped back home, France had to be a good place to start. So, I hitchhiked down, not knowing for sure if you were there. And with lots of time to think on the journey, I see now how all you ever wanted was for me to stop you – the little things creeping in one by one: black nail varnish, white flares, the studded belt, the cowboy boots and Breezers… But I had no idea you thought these things were ugly and weird, and you HAVE to know that me not saying anything about them was NOT because I didn’t care. It had to do with my head being full of meteorites and dancing bears, because I was/am so so in love with you. And now I can’t help thinking that if I’d said something like, “Hey, don’t wear that belt!” or “Yes, your flares SUCK!!!” then you’d still be here. But, I swear, I swear, I SWEAR you looked incredible in that stuff! You could’ve been wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit, and I still would’ve thought you were gorgeous. Just like this amazing city — where I have done things I’m not proud of to keep my head above water while looking for you. I even took some of your Zoloft(!!!), which is how I met Thea (long story), who I told all about you (and whose typewriter this is!). She’s into palm reading and tarot cards. We drank wine and talked about how “magic” is just another word for God. And when she fell asleep, I made a little ritual of my own, based on rituals she said she’d been doing for years. Not that I thought they worked — or she’d be the Queen of Egypt by now — but I was tired and used-up, losing hope of ever seeing you again, and nothing really happened at first. But then after a few days, I started getting static shocks ALL THE TIME, and sensations of people standing right beside me who weren’t actually there. And now rooms creak and groan as soon I step into them, like they’re trying to tell me something. It might just be the Zoloft (I keep thinking about your Where did all these spiders come from?! Zoloft side-effect story…), or it might be proof you’re out there somewhere. But being haunted by you like this hurts so bad, and in a way I wish I’d never met Thea — who anyway thinks I’m crazy and arrogant for messing in things I don’t “really respect or understand”. But it’s not that; it’s about me being ready to use all life has to offer to get you back — like writing this letter, which I’m going to launch into the air. Maybe I’ll toss it from a bridge into traffic, or leave it lying on a café table, or put it in a bottle and throw it out to sea in the hopes that it’ll somehow find its way to you — or that it’ll start a chain of events that brings you back to me, although (I have no idea what it says under here, but my feeling is that it’s not all sweetness and light, LS, Copenhagen October two thousand and six). Whatever it takes.

 

 

 

 Yours Always,

 

 

M.

 

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You could taste it

 

You could taste it, no other way around it. It was actually in the air; you could taste it. Coming out of the middle part of the factory was a large brick cigarette. Where the mouth was, I don’t know. Probably hell — that or some place close to hell. This mouth was releasing giant plumes of pollution, as thick and long as pulled cotton. You could taste it. It stuck to your membranes. It made your teeth grimy. How did this happen? I asked around. I walked to the place where I used to buy chocolate bars; I stopped in at the barbershop, and all the places I used to know: the supermarket, Placard’s Bar & Grille, the church on the corner, even Mable and John Houston’s. Let me tell you, the chocolatier packed it in and moved, and no one knows where to. The church? Placard’s? Gone. And John left Mable for a younger woman, and Mable’s in a home. Please don’t think badly of me if I spit. There, that’s better. Beyond the way, there is no sun and there is no moon. Heaven’s dome is taking on a violet hue. I am standing in the anti-twilight of the vicus. Let me change gears… Lint, and the hull of some kind of seed — maybe a sunflower seed — are lodged in the bottom corner of my coat pocket. I can feel it with my thumb. Time and pressure are turning them into a rock. I will not interfere with time and pressure.The tiny sting of a splinter shoots to my brain.Yesterday, I took an old granny’s cane, as she held onto me, walking across the street. It was a wooden cane, you see, and I was too proud to say, “My word, Lady! Your wooden cane needs sanding.” The granny was a ghost in the afternoon mist. What I want most is a cold can of soda. I would prefer grape (seems fitting), but I’d settle for orange. Geez, I’m just thirsty. I’d drink anything, so long as it had a kick to it. Trail-of-ants, how do you do it? I’ve never seen a selfish one of you! You always do so well, don’t you? No fuss, no fight. I remember you all well, though. We fought, didn’t we? And you won. All you little guys were so clever in Los Angeles, weren’t you? You sent the lone one scavenging for food, and when the lone one found food, he identified it, and went back to rouse the troops. Jesus, you came in hundreds, thousands — no, scratch that — millions! There were millions of you, weren’t there? I’d come home, turn on the kitchen light, and there you were, trail-of-ants, millions of you strong, picking at the chicken bones in the sink. I’d say, “Not again!” and reach under the counter for the disinfectant to wipe all of you out. I’m fine, now. I’d be alright with having you all back again, and if and when I ever disturb the grass, so long as you’re not the biting kind, I will let you crawl over me — up my hands, arms, torso, face. It’s kinda pretty, now, and in the anti-twilight, the thick cottony pollution. Am I going to hell because I think this? Am I gonna go to hell where that big mouth is? Am I wrong for thinking that in death there is beauty? Oh, how I pine for the loss of all things — not just ants, but also my younger self, the cow that gave me leather, a book I couldn’t help feeding to the fire, my first car, and the polar bear. Yes, I would give my life to pet a polar bear. How absurd! I would risk it for a snuggle in the hollow shafts of a polar bear’s coat (I know it would be coarse). I know I would get the exchange of a mere fraction of heat and then be mauled, and my life juices would color the sweet white drifts of snow. But, yes, it would be worth it to receive that fraction of heat, my most desired beast. There is kindness in your eyes. Do you know that? There is kindness. You’ve been beaten before — I can tell — but you’ve succeeded! Oh, what a blessed thing, to succeed. For every time you’ve been beaten, you’ve risen, and your trophies are new tiny lines on your face. I know this — look at me, look in my eyes. There’s kindness. I used to think it was the whiskey that’s bringing them down, that the whiskey is pulling at my eyes, but it’s untrue. It’s the kindness! Don’t ever let someone tell you whiskey will kill you. No, kindness will kill you. But, remember what I said about how blessed it is to succeed. Death is not bad; death is not final; death is not the end. Between us is a large body of water I want to cross. I will make it there one of these days. I promise. I will make it there one of these days.

 

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An Unforeseen Happenstance at the Salon des Amateurs

 

I arrived shortly after noon. Not being used to travelling on foot, it had taken me a little longer to reach my destination (which would turn out to be my destiny): the secluded and much sought-after place in the woods that can be seen neither by the bird in the sky, nor by the frog on the ground.

 

 

Admission to the legendary structure is strictly by invitation only, and I had memorised the map showing the route from the train station to the edge of the forest, visualising as knots and loops in a string of black lamb’s wool the almost-musical sequence of steps and turns that were to take me to the gates of the mansion (yes, I imagined a stately manor, a mixture of a nineteenth-century industrialist’s Parisian residence, and a Prussian philosophy professor’s country house, with an international staff of servants from the former European empires and their colonies, headed by a married couple in their mid-fifties — an Englishman with a slight speech impediment he made up for by substituting words with graceful and well-practised hand gestures, and his green-eyed Russian spouse), from where I would be guided into the building itself.

 

 

As it turned out, I was received at the gate, not by a human servant, but by a small dog of uncertain breed: a long-bodied, short-legged little thing with a bushy, coiled tail and ragged, shiny fur that made it appear permanently wet, and a head so big it would have made any wolf proud. But it was only when my “guide” had, in typical canine fashion, motioned for me to follow it, and had already ushered me into the grand hallway on the other side of the gate, that I realised I couldn’t remember having seen the outside of the building I was now inside. For, after unravelling the ball of black yarn I had dutifully kept in a secure place in my memory, and having carefully counted out all the steps and turns its many knots and loops were reminders of, my manoeuvres had taken me deep into the kingdom of firs, pines and spruce trees. I had come to a place where the vegetation was so thick it made a green wall of itself – a living, rustling façade I hadn’t recognised as the outer walls of my destination.

 

 

Without a single ‘woof’, and with just the occasional glance back over its shoulder, the confusingly-shaped dog escorted me up a dark and twisted stairway, along many narrow and dusky corridors that only seemed to lead to narrower and duskier ones, then up another contorted and gloomy stairway. And, after a lot more walking up, up and up, turning one way, then the other, it suddenly showed me into the legendary room I had – with much effort and over long distances – come to enter: the inimitable Salon des Amateurs.

 

 

Once the animal had used its broad-nostrilled nose to nudge the heavy door behind me closed, I was rendered speechless. My breath became so shallow that it didn’t allow me to make a single utterance – neither a shout of wonder, nor a muffled sigh of awe – for I was immediately taken aback by the room’s size (how small it was!), and the large number of finely interwoven consonants and vowels my predecessors had left behind within its walls as contributions to its purpose, offerings to our common cause, and testimonials about themselves.

 

 

The countless words which the previous visitors to the Salon des Amateurs had produced in their minds, and made audible with the vocal apparatuses their mouths and throats had held from birth (or which they had made visible with their hands, like my imagined Englishman) swam around like particles of dust within the five walls of the space, briefly illuminated as they drifted through a ray of blue daylight that was let in by a slit in the curtains and cut the heavy darkness like a razor slicing black silk. I moved closer to the seductive swirl of glowing dots and put my left ear up to it.

 

 

These “voices” were so tiny that it was as if I wasn’t just hearing them, but perceiving them with all my senses at the same time, as if each oscillating, high-frequency particle floating past my ear registered as an image in my mind, and this image brought forth a sentence – a statement – I could “hear” with my “mind’s ear”:

 

 

“We are amateurs at breathing. We are amateurs at walking. We are amateurs at naming colours. We are amateurs at rubbing our noses. We are amateurs at grunting. We are amateurs at twisting hair locks. We are amateurs at drinking mango juice.

 

We are amateurs at swimming. We are amateurs at watching sunsets. We are amateurs at waking up in the morning. We are amateurs at biting our nails. We are amateurs at spotting extraterrestrials. We are amateurs at sneezing. We are amateurs at inventing words.

 

We are amateurs at twirling our fingers. We are amateurs at tying green ribbons. We are amateurs at catching cold. We are amateurs at drawing a horse. We are amateurs at being drawn by horses. We are amateurs at curling our toes. We are amateurs at growing.”

 

 

I was filled with joy. The roundelay that was being played by the microscopic entities in the pentagonal room was a song I had waited all too long to hear. At last I was in the company of my equals, as far from the maddening pressures of professional life as I could possibly imagine.

 

 

“We are amateurs at singing out loud. We are amateurs at boiling an egg. We are amateurs at throwing dice. We are amateurs at smiling. We are amateurs at banging pots and pans. We are amateurs at playing with ourselves. We are amateurs at moving a chair from the hallway to the bedroom.”

 

 

And then it happened. The “amateur particles” were drawn towards my body like iron filings to a magnet. I was filled with a tingling sensation, an unquenchable nameless longing mixed with laughter and dread, comparable only to the emotion that united my body and soul the moment I first experienced an orgasm with another person. They settled on my shoes and clothes; they lined up along each and every hair on my head; they covered the skin on my face and hands, all the time adding to the long list of things we are born to do with as much love and care as possible, without knowing how.

 

 

“We are amateurs…

 

We are amateurs…

 

We are amateurs…

 

We are amateurs…

 

We are amateurs…

 

 

The door creaked behind me. A draught rushed through the room, causing the thin layer of infinitesimal “statements” to be swept off my being.

 

Without a moment’s hesitation I followed them. My whole body disintegrated. I was scattered into the air. I became one with the Salon des Amateurs; from now on I would be an amateur among amateurs.

 

Out in the hallway the bastard dog let out a hoarse bark.

 

 

Written by

Sjón Sigurdsson

 

 Edited by Jaquline Todd

 

 

 

 

 

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