Those little lanes
Keep haunting me
With their icy surfaces
Or sided with weeds.
I do not miss them, but
I am plucked out of them
Like an unwanted,
And for that I keep thinking
Myself back there
This story is pure fiction, but it is inspired by Finnish creation myths.
If ordinary people were interested in the problems of philosophy, wise men would be found wandering up and down the runways of modern culture eager to debate. But despite popular belief, in the beginning it was not the word, it was desire. And desire split the universe in half. And the air had a daughter. She was beautiful, of course, but lonely. So she drowned herself in the mighty ocean and had a child with him. But a bird came and stole her child away and made it into earth. The child stretched his hands towards the sky and made a bridge for his mother to cross. But from the bridge came darkness and sank its teeth into the child’s chest, and so a lake rose from the newly formed cavity, and now the child could be embraced by his father, and his mother went back to the air and kissed the child’s little cheek. But the darkness was still there, so soldiers were born from it, and tried desperately to fight it, but failed of course, and the different elements had to learn to live with each other. Not in harmony, no, that would have been impossible, but in quiet acceptance and defeat.
Mr. Lawrence folded his books away, lowered his glasses and stared directly into Gylfie’s eyes. Gylfie looked down, embarrassed. She was perhaps the most eager student, but far from the boldest. Mr. Lawrence cleared his throat and said unceremoniously, “Well, children, that’s all for today. You may read Chapter 16 about Finnish myths for next lecture.” He heaved his book bag unto his shoulder and trotted out of the lecture hall. Some of the other students got up quickly and followed him, but Gylfie remained in her fold-up seat. She had heard the story before of course (her grandmother was Finnish), but she couldn’t remember any darkness or soldiers or piercing of hearts in any of her granny’s stories. But Mr. Lawrence was a decorated professor of ancient myths and paganism, and there was no way she would ever question his knowledge or authority on the subject.
Gylfie waited until she was the only one left in the lecture hall, then slowly she got up, chucked her tablet in her backpack and left. It was a rainy day. Huge whitish droplets had settled on the Fiat’s windscreen, and the blackened concrete road was bordered with brown puddles. Gylfie unlocked her car and attempted to wipe off the rain, but as soon as the window was clear, a new shower scattered its discharge on the dry surface. It was impossible. Gylfie sighed. She hated driving in such low visibility. The roads were thankfully pretty empty of people. It was gray and gloomy outside and the few cars braving the weather were moving slowly and carefully. Gylfie followed behind a black Citroen, her tires splashing rainwater left and right. Then suddenly she heard a loud yelp! She looked to both sides to see where the sound was coming from, and there on the sidewalk stood a boy, or rather a young man, covered in muddy brown water. She had obviously splashed him. He looked so forlorn that Gylfie pulled over and got out of her car to apologize. The young man had a strange look about him. His hair was bluish black and shoulder length, his eyes were icy blue and almost fluorescent, and his skin was pallid, but with a soft glow that made Gylfie stare at it, mesmerized. “You didn’t have to do that,” said the man, in a surprisingly deep voice, “get out of the car, I mean,” he shrugged apologetically, “these things happen. It’s the rain.” Gylfie didn’t answer right away; she was too caught up in his glowing skin. Then she pulled herself together, and said to her own surprise and astonishment: “Do you need a ride somewhere?”
The blue eyed boy lifted his eyebrows in surprise; he stared at her, as though he was examining her intentions, but then nodded and smiled. “Alright, yes, I’m on my way to work, perhaps a ride would be good.” Gylfie opened to door on the passenger side for him, and walked around the car to let herself in. “I’m Ylv by the way,” said the young man and held out his hand for her to shake. “Gylfie,” replied Gylfie and they shook hands. His was wet and cold, hers warm and dry. Gylfie switched on the heating and pulled on to the road. “So, where is it you work?” Ylv smiled. “The circus,” he replied, “it’s just off Macon Street, by the old library.” Gylfie nodded, she knew the place well. “What is it that you do at the circus?” She asked. “I’m the Gorilla man!” Ylv threw back his head and laughed. Gylfie stared at him. His face changed when he laughed, it opened up more and she could see tiny wrinkles around his eyes. When he noticed her serious face he calmed down and studied her. “I’m a skin changer……a shape shifter…” He lifted his eyebrows and made a grimace, then he chuckled, “I’m joking, Gylfie, relax.” Gylfie smiled and nodded. Of course she knew that. They drove a while in silence. ” Heeeey,” said Ylv suddenly, “have you noticed that the weather has changed?” Gylfie looked outside the windows of the little Fiat. He was right; the heavy rain had turned to snow! Snow! It was only October, a bit early for snow, thought Gylfie to herself. “Well, at least it’s not settling,” responded Ylv, as though he had heard her thoughts. Macon Street was coming up, and Gylfie made a right turn towards the library. Then suddenly Ylv cried out: “Watch out!” Gylfie stared horrified into the snowy damp windshield and spotted a shadow crossing the road just in front of the car, she hit the brakes hard. The car skidded off the road and stopped abruptly before it landed in the ditch. Ylv struggled to open the door, finally got himself out and ran to see what it was that they had almost hit. Gylfie stayed frozen in her seat, shaking. What had just happened? Ylv came back to the car and opened the door on the driver’s side. “I think it was just some kind of animal.” He looked at Gylfie and added with concern in his voice: “Are you okay?” Gylfie nodded weakly. “You know, I can walk from here, if you’d rather just go home, I mean.” Gylfie nodded again. She seemed to have lost the ability to speak. Ylv shrugged. “Okay, thanks for the ride anyway, perhaps I’ll see you around.” And with that he shut the door and walked away.
Gylfie remained in her car seat for a while, staring out the darkened windshield. What had just happened? The snow had stopped and the coldness of the oncoming night had solidified the water on the windows into patterns of white shiny ice. The roads would freeze too, thought Gylfie to herself, and she started the Fiat. Better get off this increasingly slippery track before she had another almost accident.
That night Gylfie repeated the incident over and over again in her sleep, only this time it was a child on the road, and she didn’t almost hit it, she ran right over it. Ylv was there too, but he just sat passively in his seat, giving a hint of a smile each time she hit the child, then vanishing into thin air as soon as she stopped the car. When morning finally came, Gylfie was exhausted. She went to the kitchen and made herself a cup of coffee. The weather had changed again; the sun was now piercing through a clouded sky, breaking apart the ice from yesterday’s chill. Gylfie shoved her tablet and books into her backpack and headed for the car, but as soon as she saw the battered Fiat, she knew she couldn’t drive. It would have to be the bus.
The central heating in the bus was turned uncomfortably high. The bus driver sat happily in his seat in a worn out t-shirt and sunnies, while the passengers struggled to keep from sweating in their winter coats and woolly hats. Gylfie started to feel a bit queasy. The heat was suffocating. She closed her eyes and concentrated on her breathing to keep the nausea at bay. The bus was making a hopeless amount of stops. There were bus stands at every corner and the bus seemed to take every turn and sidetrack possible to look for new passengers to fill the empty seats. After ten more minutes Gylfie could not take it anymore, she pushed the stop button and waited for the next bus stand to appear. When she was finally back outside in the fresh cold air she realized that she had no idea where she was. She looked around for any clues, like a street name or a sign with a name on, but there was nothing. She just had to pick a direction and start walking. At least the fresh air cured her of the annoying nausea.
After walking for about twenty minutes Gylfie came to an abrupt halt. There was something familiar about this place. On intuition she made a right turn, and yes, she had been right, she was back, back on the scene of yesterday’s almost accident. Gylfie could feel her arm hair stand up. Why had she come here? Was it her subconscious mind telling her something? Maybe she actually had hit that animal and now it lay somewhere wounded and dying. And it was all her fault. Where would a wounded animal go? Gylfie examined the landscape. The road had dried up and was now back to the gray color of faded asphalt, on each side of the road there was a ditch, and on the other side of the ditch there was a scattering of trees. Gylfie recognized birch in their white barrenness and even dark green spruce and other evergreens she was not familiar with. Stillness emanated from the forest, as though there was a boundary of quiet between that green natural world and this gray asphalted nudity. Of course, thought Gylfie to herself, a wounded animal would have run into the sanctuary of the forest.
The trees were tall, hardly letting in the sunshine, and the path became a zigzag of shadows and withered leaves gleaming in rays of faded light. But at least there was a path. Gylfie stepped carefully over little rocks and puddles covered in black ice. It was so quiet she could hear herself breathe, only a couple of birds chanted wistfully in the trees. Soon the forest opened into a clearing and there was a lake. It was a small lake with still dark water, little flakes of sun-flecked ice floated on the surface. The banks were bordered with lean reaching grass indicating perhaps a swamp-like interior. Gylfie jumped as she suddenly heard a faint sound of water being moved sideways, not exactly a splashing, more of a quiet gliding. And then she spotted him, a man swimming gracefully in the lake. His black long hair floated behind him on the water surface making him look ethereal and otherworldly. Gylfie gave a little cough; she had to somehow indicate that he had an audience. The man, obviously taken by surprise, splashed around a bit, then turned and swam towards her. When he was quite close, Gylfie saw to her astonishment that it was Ylv.
Ylv rose from the black water and waded towards her. Gylfie was embarrassed to see that he was stark naked. But Ylv didn’t seem to mind her seeing him naked. He just smiled and came over to her, wrapping himself in a towel. “Isn’t it cold?” Asked Gylfie. Ylv shrugged. “You get used to it.” “What are you doing here, Gylfie?” Gylfie was taken aback by his obvious lack of manners, she cleared her throat and said, a bit annoyed: ” I-I came back to….to see if that animal from yesterday was hurt.” Ylv’s eyes softened. “Gylfie, we didn’t hit it, it got away, remember…” “Yes, but….but….I thought.” To her astonishment Gylfie started crying. Warm tears ran down her cold cheeks and landed on the ground. Ylv came up next to her and put his arm around her. “I could have hit it,” said Gylfie, sobbing. “I could have killed it. It could have been a child. I never thought…..I could do something like that…” “But Gylfie,” said Ylv soothingly, “it wouldn’t have been your fault. It was dark and raining and,” “It wouldn’t have mattered,” interrupted Gylfie. “I….I….am capable of taking a life….it wouldn’t have meant anything to that life if I meant to or not….” Ylv put his other arm around her and held her. She sobbed into his shoulder. “Gylfie….let me take you to your car. You need to go home.” “I don’t have my car,” whispered Gylfie, “I took the bus.” “But why?” Began Ylv, but stopped himself with a sigh. “Oh, Gylfie…” Gylfie thought she detected frustration in his voice. Who could blame him, she was being hysterical.
“Come for a swim with me,” whispered Ylv in her ear. “It will clear your head.” Gylfie sniffed and swallowed a sob. “But, but it’s so cold, Ylv, I’ll get sick.” “Nonsense!” Exclaimed Ylv loudly and smiled. “It’s just cold in the beginning, then you get used to it. It’s good for health, really. Come on! Give it a try!” Ylv looked so enthusiastic; Gylfie had to smile through her tears. These last two days had been pretty crazy, maybe she should add a little more madness to the already boiling over mishmash of temporary insanity. Ylv saw the change in her eyes, and his smile broadened. He discarded his towel and ran towards the lake, pulling her with him. He was like a naughty child let off the leash. “But I don’t have a swimsuit,” protested Gylfie. “Well, neither have I.” Ylv threw back his head and his laughter hit Gylfie right in the face. It was infectious. She hesitated. She could just wear her clothes, but then she would have to sit on the bus back home in soaking wet clothes. That did it, the thought of wet clothes gave her the audacity she needed to strip down, she had not planned to undress entirely, but when she started removing garment after garment, there was a freedom in it, an abandon that made her bold, and she followed the already splashing Ylv into the lake without a single piece of cover-up on her body. Ylv didn’t stare or make any sign of desiring her. He was more like a child, enticing her to wade deeper and deeper into the black water.
The water was cold. Colder than anything Gylfie had ever felt against her body. Little silver needles pierced her skin all over, and penetrated deep into her. She had a hard time breathing. Her breath came in heaves, desperately being sucked in in an attempt to fill her lungs with something else than cold. Ylv seemed unaffected. He swam calmly around her, smiling and teasing. His skin was still white and pale. Gylfie watched her own skin turn from an irritated pink to a bluish red. “Come on!” Laughed Ylv, “Just do it. Just let go!” Gylfie released her body into the water, and the world disappeared. She could hear noises, water surging, closing in on her, a small ringing sound and something else….perhaps breaking of ice flakes. The ground under her feet was no longer there and she sank. But no, she couldn’t! She had to swim! Gylfie kicked off and rose to the surface, desperately battling the treacherous water. As her head broke free she managed to take one big breath and fill herself with air. She struggled to keep herself from drowning. Her eyes searched for Ylv. But when her gaze met the bank her eyes widened in disbelief. Someone was standing there, next to the pile of clothes she had left behind! Something small. Was it a child? Or….no….it was a cub, a wolf of some kind or maybe a husky. Gylfie went under again. The darkness of the lake swallowed her, and this time it would not let go. It was quiet now, almost peaceful. Gylfie relaxed her limbs and let herself sink. Then suddenly, a pole of light struck the water and travelled fast towards Gylfie. It spread like a bolt of lightning and shaded her face with soft yellow. It must be a ray of sun, or perhaps starlight or a torch. In her delirium Gylfie could not tell. But she had to follow it. She was drowning! She didn’t want to die! Gylfie forced her body to listen to her and slowly she ascended towards the source of the light.
The surface broke with a slow slurping sound. Gylfie gulped for breath. Her hair was pasted to her scalp and her nose was smarting from too much water intake. Rays of warm sun basked in her frozen face, and the water reluctantly released her to earth’s waiting embrace. Gylfie waded towards the bank and her pile of dry clothes. There was nobody there. No child, no cub. Only too much silence, a complete absence of life. Gylfie shivered. She no longer cared about the child; it must have been a figment of her delirious frost-shocked mind. She used her t-shirt as a towel and hurriedly dressed herself. There was not a single bird chanting now. But where was Ylv? Gylfie looked around. She let her eyes slowly fly over the water, but there was nobody. Only silence. The water didn’t even move and neither did the shadows nor the wind. Frankly, Gylfie was glad. She was tired of this strange blue eyed boy and his teasing and tricks. He was probably hiding somewhere in the forest, laughing at her. Then suddenly Gylfie detected a sound, it was an engine, the engine of a vehicle. The bus! Gylfie leaped to her feet and started running towards the road she had come from. She was not going to miss that bus! She paid no attention to the broken branches, the busy ants or the faint prints of paws under her feet. She just ran frantically, to catch up with the oncoming bus.
I got the idea for this story one day in Hajii Lane looking at a caged bird staring at the sky…
Those tall lean San Francisco houses look like rows of multicolored piano keys left unplayed, except for by an occasional shower or a gust of wind. The balconies are French with curled iron and picked tops. If somebody ever used them they would be able to hold hands from one end to the other. But this neighborhood is past its best. The only living things you see here are birds bickering on rooftops. I should know, I’m one myself. I live on second floor of a big white and olive back-to-back house. You may assume I’m a nuisance, you’re wrong, I’m just an outsider. That’s the odd thing about Julius Lawrence Street, it never became what it intended to be: cheap lodgings and noisy pubs. Instead it offers privacy and silence, solitary rooms and cold nights. It suits me. I rest my mind on flights of fancy. I can’t stay in those cages with iron bars. I enjoy my seclusion, and I only work on evenings. The others leave me in peace.
But then someone moved into the flat above me. At first I thought it was a ghost, but we met on the chimney landing one day, and I learned that his name was Harris. He told me that he was bred in captivity, which was odd because he was rather common looking. The others were curious about Harris of course, but he was like me: no audible comings and goings. He asked me a couple of times to borrow my bathroom, apparently his water was jammed or something. But mostly we met on the landing. He came back when I left. He never really spoke to me, just registered my presence with a nod of the head. On rainy days when I didn’t go to work, I heard him unlocking his door. Then there was a thump and raised voices. No one else seemed to care. But I had come here for the vacuum of silence, for the vacancy, the emptiness. At first I decided to talk to Harris about it, but then I thought better of it.
That morning was sweltering. It was summer, and the sun boiled the concrete from dawn to dusk. My flat was unusually stuffy, and I was relieved when I heard Harris leaving his flat, heading for the stairs. I waited until he was gone before I followed him. The wind was cool and refreshing, and I could move easily despite the caging heat.
Bare streets fuming with sultry cries tried to leap at me, but I was too fast. That’s the thing about piano keys, they provide excellent patches of shadows. I could almost hear the dark tone of the black shorter keys quivering melodically. Then Harris disappeared behind an abandoned flower shop and I quickened my pace. I rounded the corner and was taken aback by what I saw.
There he was, like a common thief broken into a house filled with withered roses and beheaded garden gnomes. He was standing on a carpet of black metallic dust, but he wasn’t alone. A crowd of about ten to fifteen cats stood about him tinkering with something laid on gray tables. You can imagine my shock, cats! Those selfish, lazy loners crowding my backyard! Harris was holding an iron rod that looked like something from his balcony. I leaned in for a better look. The buggers were making banners with slogans such as: ” Death to the feather-clippers” and ” Let there be no limits to the sky.” In a terracotta pot by the blackened window I could see several discarded collars, some with name tags and magnets on them. A steel bowl of water stood close by. Harris had a determined look in his eyes as he stood in the gloomed yellow sunlight thumping his iron rod rhythmically on the blinking floor.
I stepped out of my hiding place and moved back unto the deserted street. Unlit lamp posts and disengaged traffic lights were leaning conspicuously in on me. The tall San Fransisco houses seemed uncomfortable, abandoned without being remote. I felt diminished by them. My eyes fell on the rooftops, they were crowded, but not friendly. Like cakes frosted with flies. I let my eyes travel higher, and there it was. The sky. The blue was so inviting. It had no currency, no gossip. The sun cast silvery shadows on the clouds. The thin layer of city dust was carefully wiped away by yesterday’s rain. I recognized the night hiding in the future. It shed crumbled stars between my overweight stiff wings. I tried to recall exactly how Harris had done it, spreading them like fans. I felt as if I would release, open, startlingly fast, perhaps better than I had ever done before. The rising of me looked exactly like a flutter, and I kicked off and flew, into that faraway blue that had no limits.
Can you hear the music
Of old-time dreams and days
When you were but a little child
And the world was games and play
When the joyous fields
And soft warm nights
Were young and free from stain
And the woods were full of secrets
And fairies danced in the lanes
When sunsets were singing lullabies
For goldenrods and cloves
And warmly folded you into
The loving arms of home
Can you hear the music
Of old-time dreams and days
When God was a wayside flower
An afternoon in May
Or a little lamb at pasture
Or the sunrise above the bay
And the sweetness of your laughter
Was better than any prayer
Can you hear the music
Of old-time dreams and play
When you were but a little child
And the world was games and play