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Summer Long (The Zone).

Normunds is back from Germany, Gundega from Australia, Inese from Sweden, but Janis--from the countryside. He's spent a month there alone with his dog, he's transformed. His hands don't shake anymore, he's stopped stammering, his muddled thinking and sloppiness are gone. True, he's grown a little belly.

And what if he needs his shaking hands for writing poetry?

I'm out in the countryside, too. I don't count the days, I sleep and eat, I do laundry, and I weed.

That great life worthy of literature is, thank God, somewhere on the invisible horizon.

The wires are cut, the phone is silent, the radio is broken.

When there is absolutely nothing else to do, I write for myself.

I log.

A bit of self-discovery: in the countryside, I am not afraid of death. At least not the way I am in the city. Death in the city is too unnatural. That is all I can say on this.

When I watch a lizard sunbathing on a rock, I don't think--"it exists in order to exterminate vermin." I think--"it exists in order to sunbathe on a rock." The lizard is older than me and older than the rock, I can't explain the lizard.

I don't want to understand anything. I just want to feel.

I don't like to make use of steroetypes. One just came over to my house, Sumanis by name. In his shopping net, a three-liter jar of muddy swill. He's been officially registered as an alcoholic. Reddish violet, coarse. Plastered. Cheerful and benign. He knows how to build houses and brick stoves, raise fences, clean chimneys, tar boats, glaze windows, cut firewood, slaughter cattle, catch fish. Forty-seven years old. Looks sixty. A hat shiny with grease on his head. Loves to curse the Slavs, sticking a juicy Russian obscenity on the end of every sentence. One eye is glass, it's clear and motionless, the other permanently squints. This peculiarity puts a fixed, cunning smirk on the man's face.

"I'm no fool!" Sumanis says. "Fools are them what digs in the mud, I'm not digging no mud!"

An absolutely unverifiable statement, but I like it.

You could make a hero out of this Sumanis, even a protagonist. Put together a comedy or a tragedy or a farce.

You could reveal his child's soul in all its sensitivity, its naivete. You could work hard to condemn the nasty life that has made him what he is. And--to dodge the banality so scorned by critics--you could make poor Sumanis murder his wife in the end, after all.

But Sumanis doesn't ask to be explicable. He leaves happily, swinging his net with the jar. He lives just past the swamp here.

Once the pain of labor is forgotten, it turns into something akin to pleasure in the mind. Summer, not spring, is the best season, really, for adult love.

I could make a story out of that as well, but it probably wouldn't be about Sumanis.

Painter Heinrihsone's large fields of color are extremely sensuous. My schoolmate Sarmite's pale and narrow fingers are also sensuous, which Heinrihsone described so wonderfully in the magazine Zilite. Cucumber plants and peonies and the fat grubs in cabbage are sensuous. Poppies in their brief bloom. But with marigolds, only the seeds are sensuous.

Life, too, can lack a theme.

Sure, there's birth and death, but they are just the top edge of the first page and the bottom edge of the last.

Oh, if only I were Max Frisch!

Even better--if I were Gantenbein.

I'm not.

The woman at the mirror by twilight--that's me too.

(I have to stop writing, a butterfly has strayed into the room accidentally, I have to help it get out, outside it's a glaringly bright day, tomorrow, in a week at the latest, there'll be a storm.)

By twilight at the mirror. The mirror has some kind of connection with death, because only the past is hidden there. You must not look into the mirror too long, especially at dusk. Your eyes become hollow and eerie, the lips draw back and bare the teeth (they're not mine), damp shadows cover everything, and sticky fingers paw the soul. The woman unravels in slate-colored shadows, paralyzed, and there is someone standing behind her.

But outside it's a glaringly bright day, the sun melts the sky, pours it into the room, and the mirror becomes only your reflection, for now. No, the mirror becomes the bridge to a fairy tale. (All fairy tales, though they begin with the words "Once upon a time," speak of the future--they model endless possibilities for your life and invite you to choose your role therein.)

The sun melts the sky and pours it into the room, you're all golden in the mirror, in the quivering light, your hair fine gold and your lightly gilded skin, a brocade mantilla on your shoulders--silver and violet, and the fragrance of lemon thyme.

A beauty.

You melt in the light, and mercury drips from your fingertips onto the worn planks in the floor, smashing into a million brilliant bullets.

The choir sings Hallelujah.

(However, the mirror lies.)

Washing the floor on all fours, you happen to glance in the mirror--an unfamiliar face, moist and flushed, hair stuck to the forehead.

Who's that?

Yourself.

The mirror must not be broken. The images of the sun and the twilight continue to live in the mirror, as long as it's whole.

When the mirror cracks, they're set free and scatter about the house, they will never leave you again.

Summer, as I said, is by far the most sensuous time of year. The yellow flowers of the cucumbers. Bumblebees. When you stretch out on the knoll, face-down on the grass, you feel the curve of the earth inside you. That's how infertile women should sleep. The horizon descends to an inch from your eyes, and this inch, with its blades of grass and its insects, becomes the whole world. The sun works you into the earth like fertilizer.

You can also lie on your back. If the sky doesn't make your head spin.

The woman lies on her back in the garden. She's pale, untanned, in the green grass. The shadows of leaves are dabs of paint on her skin. The shadows dance, the painter adds one coat after another, until the body takes shape. The emerald of the grass and the milky skin. A light ochre about the shoulders and the stomach taut as an apple.

Milk and emerald, and the dark red juice of cherries running down her chin, a tiny rivulet down her breasts.

The woman is asleep.

Sumanis with his jar of swill is frozen behind the black currant bush and is afraid to pass.

"Self-indulgence," someone says, having read what I've written. "Only bad movies feature white women lying in green grass."

Yes, of course.

But Sumanis also has a wife.

Her legs are withered, brown, speckled by knotted veins. Her entire skin is taupe like dry, clayey earth, rough as sandpaper. Her hands are copper, no, the color of lignite, with black hangnails, they're cracked, and all the cracks are full of black, fertile oil. Her breasts droop like wasp hives and her stomach is a tough leather bag. The soles of her feet are broad and hard, they cleave to the earth with crooked, powerful toes.

She has bones and muscles and sinew, this Sumanis's wife, and it's all on view.

Hair like lichen and a pudenda like a swallow's nest.

She is a woman and Sumanis is a man. It would be dishonest to attribute love only to the emerald-green and white, only to the pink and gold. Sumanis and his wife collide like rock against rock, and their love flares up brief and glittering, smelling of the shed, sweat, swill, and rather dirty sheets.

That's love, too.

The pinkish golden kind trails like a strand of honey, sweet and sticky, thickening here, disappearing there, it swells and wafts away like the scent of jasmine. Rolls like the sea with round, shallow waves when the wind dies, and each coming wave is more fragrant, sweeter and deeper than the last. Its edges are the color of transparent blood, and the yellow thread in the middle stretches for a long, long time. Then comes the ninth wave, the bowl of honey breaks, and the blood coagulates. And now you are Sumanis's wife, your legs are tree branches, and you char hard and fast.

Love just the same.

On calm warm evenings the smell of jasmine by the house is almost nauseating, you have to shut the windows.

A lot of grass snakes live in the shed and in the pile of planks by the barn. Once Lilija, the former owner of the house, reclined on the grass under the oak tree. The tree's shadow gradually receded and left her slumbering in the sun. When she woke up, a sleeping snake was curled up on her chest. It gave Lilija a terrible fright, and since then she can't stand grass snakes.

How strange and beautiful. I thought such things happened only in fairy tales.

I'm jealous of Lilija, she's the snake's bride now, she's marked.

The snake is probably connected to death somehow, but in a good way.

I still don't know which fairy tale will be mine.

When I live in the countryside, the city seems unreal. I don't miss the city at all. There time flows unevenly and every hour has eyes of fear. In the city my soul runs a chronic high fever and has an irregular pulse. In the city I want to acquire too much--friends, love, recognition. In the city it's hard to distinguish myself from others. The fever in my soul passes for passion, and the short circuit of a single night leaves scars that are too deep and painful.

In the city everyone should carry a voltage regulator with them. In the countryside I don't care that I have no friends.

My house is in the middle of the forest, and there are no politics within a radius of at least two miles. Only mushrooms and berries.

Just now I scorned the city, but reading what I've written, I come to this conclusion: I write about the countryside like an honest-to-goodness city girl. All those twilights and weak white women.

Forgive me, my love. Your crepe paper gaudiness and your cheap spangles are dear to me. The smell of asphalt excites me as much as the aroma of hay. I need the city's gossip and intrigue, the city's fickle joy. I like money and everything you can buy with it in the city. I like loud distractions at night and coming home in the morning in the weak light as drowsy citizens are leaving for work on the first trolleys.

You are the longing in the eyes of the female yardkeepers, and the carnival glare of their orange vests. You are kisses in telephone booths. The rats' secret bustle in the cellars and the squeal of taxi tires at the Hotel Latvija.

You are a fragrant combination of French perfume, dirty hallways, and car exhaust.

You are unnatural, and that is precisely why you are beautiful.

(But understand--in the countryside there is no fear of death.)

You can truly love only one city. I don't mean the shell--the buildings and the streets and the cobblestones. I mean the living city, with its flesh and blood, with its people and their assigned roles.

And I discover: I can't love my city enough. Her flesh and blood are ravaged by an evil plague. I hear a foreign language in her streets, and the colors and shapes of these imported artificial flowers don't please me. Their stench works away at the walls of buildings and the foundations of monuments until they crumble.

And moreover--my city is poor. I can understand and forgive that, but a poor city is pitiful. Poverty in a city should hide itself in attics rather than show off on the main street. My poor city is like a tired old woman after violent sex with a vagrant who hasn't even paid. Her makeup is smeared and the dress that used to be so magnificent is soiled and torn.

Sumanis promised to cut firewood today, but when he got ten rubles in advance, he took off.

The woman at night.

The night is frightening. Unkind voices whisper to each other in unintelligible tongues. The air is thick and viscous, the sheets are damp. The palpable absence of somebody else's soothing breath nearby. The dog of darkness, panting hotly, runs past the open window and makes the heart grow numb with foreboding. The window panes, so quiescent during the day, tremble as the fingers of tiny spirits touch them. The night's tentacles creep out of the corners of the room to caress the woman's body, throbbing as they retract, leaving slimy tracks on her breasts. The sickly sweet stench of rotten fruit bubbles up, and an owl shrieks with horror in the birches. Even the tree leaves quiver, when they feel the breath of night upon them.

The night is a man with a toothless mouth and burning eyes.

The darkness is his loyal sister, a crone, a matchmaker.

Sumanis is probably staggering home through the night.

"A dark night or a bright day,

A drunkard doesn't care," he bellows a popular tune.

A bat shoots soundlessly right past his eyes.

"Scram, varmint!"

The night withdraws into the cool blue thickets of the forest, the darkness follows it slowly, her dirty sheets drying in the sweaty light.

The woman has fallen asleep.

The gray light of the morning doesn't flatter her. Her tortured face turns yellow, there's a cool damp in her elbow joints, under her breasts, and the rumpled sheets, twisted around her legs, are quietly steaming. The sign left on her chest by the finger of night is crusty and heaves slowly as the woman breathes.

But her breath is calm.

Night is gone.

By day all the terrors of the night seem absurd.

I laugh, but cautiously.

The village is dying. Has died already.

We city folk create only an illusion of life during the short summer. The few local inhabitants can be seen twice a week at the car store. Auntie Ella with her crutches. Mirdzis. Old Vangrov. Auntie Milda. Five or six others. Almost all of them are old, collapsing with their houses. Some are hostile:

"Those durned Ri-iga types leave no room . . . buyin' till the store's empty!"

Hardly anyone in the village keeps livestock anymore. They don't put up preserves either. In the car store the old ladies buy Globus jams and tinned peas and Selga cookies. What else can they do? No one produces milk here anymore, and sugar is rationed. The gardens go to seed, the old people don't have the energy. The young ones can't find work. And the children don't have schools.

The village is dying, and its death cripples the souls of the people in a strange way.

But come fall, when the city people gradually retreat, someone makes a tour of all the emptied homes in these and other villages: the window panes are carefully removed and just as carefully (thank God!) replaced, every drawer, every little closet comes under exacting scrutiny. Everything that has any value gets taken. Even a screwdriver or a hammer. Even an opened box of tea.

(When it turns out that it was a well-organized enterprise originating in the city of Ventspils, every autumn, for years, it's hard to believe.)

Waiting for the car store in the sweltering afternoon (sometimes you have to wait for two, three hours), the women idly hash out the latest events in the village. It's amazing how the news service works: who, when, how long they're staying, how long they'll be gone, what's been stolen from whom.

The women turn to the past only reluctantly: you young ones don't understand anything anyway. Well, yes--there were seventy houses in the village. Maybe some forty boats went out to sea. In the winter the men worked in the forest. Entertainment? Well, yes, they put on plays, sure. Right here in the tavern. And in Lielirbe there were dances, they used to walk those five miles there and back along the sea. And the Lielirbe boys used to come here as well, the young ones used to sing and dance at night.

Now there's nothing.

They sit in the sun, wait for the store. Listen--isn't that the hum of an engine? The dogs wait, too, with their mistresses. They sleep, panting in the heat, Benta and Uno, Little Jerry and Moris, Repsitis, Muizitis, Bonitis. The small ones are white and shaggy, the big ones all have some collie in them.

They wait, prick up their ears.

When the store arrives, they beg for cakes.

We're not just talking about break-ins. Eriks's television antenna was stolen off his roof twice, but Imants lost a brand new outhouse. It's very simple--lift it off the ditch and take it away.

"I'm no thief," Sumanis says. "D'ya think just coz I'm a drunk I'm gonna be a thief?"

Yes, yes, I believe you--a thief wouldn't say that.

When I go swimming in the evening there isn't a person on the beach as far as the eye can see. Occasionally the Carpathian guest worker herds the cows to the shore with his dogs.

At night the sand swallows up people's footsteps, blown smooth by the wind. Only the tracks of tanks and armored cars don't heal as quickly in the sand. Bordertown.

Sand. In the nose, mouth, ears. The woman's body and hair are the color of sand. She's masked. A gull lands on her shoulder and doesn't notice. A dog runs by, doesn't notice her. Only the sea notices--the tide sticks out its tongue closer and closer to her in the evening, probing.

The woman in the sand. Her body along the sea from Kolkas rags to Ventspils. The towns of Vaide, Saunags, Pitrags, Kosrags, Mazirbe, Sikrags, Jaunciems, Kesteri, Mikebaka, Luzna, and Ovisi are all birthmarks on her skin.

The sea doesn't smell of fish here anymore because there are no fishermen.

Mikelbaka is located around the woman's navel, between Kolka and Ventspils. My house "Jaunvigas" is right in the middle of the navel. Viga is a hollow between the dunes.

The invisible umbilical cord grows from my house right into the sky. Like the beanstalk. I have to keep the house in good shape, I have to make sure the cord doesn't snap.

(It's absolutely impossible to get lumber for home repairs.)

The Pize cemetery is five hundred yards from my house. I haven't been there yet.

The migration of souls. There is such a theory. As they migrate, the road of the souls goes past my house. I sit by the window at dusk and watch them go by. Young and old. The older ones are a dense gray, the young ones are clear, almost transparent. The children's souls are like a gentle vibration, like a breath of wind, just barely discernible. They never drop in at our house, and that's just fine. We aren't ready for the trip.

The roses have blossomed.

The yellow ones bloom with a frantic haste and empty out soon. From a distance it doesn't matter, but look closely--they're old coquettes wearing too much perfume.

The pinkish-white one blooms slowly and keeps for a long time. Cool and waxy in the hot sun.

White Christmas.

The woman in the river.

The Irbe flows swift and sinuous, bounded by steep banks. In some places fallen trees cross the current, the roots rise into the sky. As in Shishkin's painting, only the bears are missing.

An enormous number of gadflies.

The river runs swiftly but the thick and sultry air stands still. White sparks fly in the river's mirror, from the friction between water and air. The woman is up to her chest in the middle of the river, the brown stream coolly caresses her. The sparks leap into her hair and flare up crimson. You could stand like that until the river freezes. Her feet sink into the sand, take root.

If the river froze, an ice hole would form around the woman.

But the frost is still far away. Now--brown, honeyed, gray brown, all greens, sky blue. Need some deep purple. The ultramarine bluebells on the shore can't be seen from this distance.

The woman in the sea.

Green water, white foam. Salt on the lips, salt in the eyes. The wind chases the waves and drives them back into the deep.

It's hard to stand in the sea, the waves try to throw you on the shore or to pull you into the depths. The woman lies down on a sandbank, the waves fall over her, push, lift, carry, throw, and the sand buffs the body smooth.

If you crawl out to the shore in time, you can hear your blood sough like the sea.

If you stay too long, the waves will throw a pebble on the shore, cool and shiny. Or a piece of amber.

A bit of self-discovery: I'm happy. Fear has abandoned me.

Fear has lost my scent, runs around confused, circles, whimpers, is ashamed to look his master in the eye.

Crawls into its cave, into the darkness, and whimpers, licks its wounds.

Waits.

(Once more: the woman and the night.)

There are cool nights, soothing nights.

Blue green like Siberian fir.

Clear as glass.

Like a mirror for the sky.

Like an echo.

They smell of hay, of peppermint, of moss, of falling dew.

On such nights the apples turn juicy.

On such nights all the windows are open, the stars walk right through, the darkness may enter. The darkness pours into the corners from the middle of the room, strokes everything, smoothes it down, licks it with a cool tongue, loosens things, and turns transparent, begins to radiate a pearly light.

The woman doesn't sleep, she listens to a moonbeam buzzing into the window.

She doesn't feel her body, it's dissolved in the crystalline glimmer, it floods across the floor, runs along the walls, silver, white, gray.

A star on her forehead and a secret on her lips, black as coal.

(That's not me.)

Moreover: there are warm and soothing nights.

Soft as a dog's belly.

Black as a mole's fur.

Not a leaf trembles, the blades of grass bend silently under the footsteps of darkness.

The night has hidden its face in the clouds, eyes shut.

The woman sleeps.

When the light dawns it will start to rain.

I live between what I think I see and what I know.

The less I know, the more I see.

Every day I follow the sun in a circle around the house.

In the morning the sun shines into the bedroom. Waking me, she promises a happy day. That's where I work.

The afternoon sun shines in the dining room. That's a good place to read, write letters, relax during the siesta.

The crimson evening sun shines into the kitchen, melts my aluminum kettles into copper, settles me for the night.

In the yard, Father splits the firewood that Sumanis cut. The sound of the ax promotes a feeling of security: I still have a long time to live here.

Every day there's a new gift in the sea sand: an empty whisky bottle, a plastic Swedish gas can, an old shoe, a beer bottle. A oil paint--Aunt Olga painted her house with it.

Shoes wash up most often.

"Did all those people drown?" my daughter asks.

I do not know.

My favorite smells:

tar

honey

sawdust, resin, tree bark

camomile and meadowsweet, parsley

rotting leaves

nasturtiums

moldy cellars

smoking stoves

musk de Cartier

wet fur, puppy's breath.

Grown-ups will chew a carrot from the skinny end to the fat one. They are simply ingesting carotene.

No child eats a carrot like that.

A child starts from the fat end, breaking it off carefully with her teeth, pulling away the carrot's brightest part, the part encasing the core. If the carrot is mature enough and the child has practiced enough, then the small, light core comes out completely smooth in the end, as if it hatched by itself, moist, even the tiny, tender, rootlike bumps on the surface of the core are left whole.

Such a little core is a special delicacy.

I eat carrots like a child.

But with a radish you have to peel the skin first with your teeth.

You can also peel a tomato with your teeth. The honeyed softness of the tomato shimmers, a pale orange color.

With a cucumber cut lengthwise, you have to scrape out the seedy center first.

Rain, drizzle.

A foggy sea.

The foghorn trumpets across the whole village.

The rose blossoms are heavy with rain and bend to the ground.

A calm gray immobility, even the delicate threads of rain are frozen in the air. No end, no beginning.

People talk quietly, and the foghorn muffles their words.

The other side of the meadow is barely visible through the gray curtain of rain. I think I see a grim procession moving slowly--faceless men, shadows, pale stiff bodies on the stretchers, water dripping from their edges. Those drowned between two rains.

Hooooooo, hooooo--the foghorn like a funeral bell.

All Souls' Day at the Pize cemetery. The young pastor works up a glare of righteous indignation, God's anger at the congregation for deserting its temple (they "allowed" the Pioneer camp to set up a club in the Mikelbaka church). I believe in God, but I don't believe in God's anger at those lonely old people. The pastor's overly dramatic voice grates on my ears.

The Word of God should speak to the soul, but the soul hears quiet simple words the best.

The pastor goes on for a long time. The church choir, nine or ten old ladies, all decked out in pretty black-and-white polka-dot dresses, sit in a row on the knoll and rest the swollen legs in their thick stockings until the next hymn.

God's squandered words can't find a willing ear, they tangle in the tree branches--plop, plop--they drop into the burnt grass.

A dog lies at the pastor's feet, panting.

Depressing.

As the next hymn begins, I abandon the cemetery, and I can tell that God is not angry at me. As I leave, I see a couple of families outside the fence, seated on blankets, having a drink, a snack, they've come from afar. No sign of Sumanis.

August: red rowan trees, yellow sunflowers, marigolds still in full bloom, asters blossom, cucumbers ripen, cabbages spin into heads, the oak has sprouted acorns, the broad beans are turning black, red orange-cap mushrooms in the green grass behind the shed, round mushroom heads in the yard under our oak tree.

Is this insignificant?

I could describe this in more detail, but there's no time, you'd have to read for an entire month, day by day.

The wind is persistent here in the seaside village. At times it's fierce, pushing the meadow grass to the ground, stubbornly gripping the tree tops, won't let go, plucking the old shingled roofs chip by chip, it howls in harmony with the sea.

(You always hear the sea, the roll of the sea is the silence of this place. The city's silence is the chime of the late streetcar and the steps on the asphalt of a late passerby and the crunch of the yardkeepers' shovels in the early winter mornings.)

At times the wind is gentle, clinging, wagging its tail like a dog, wheedling, it rubs against your legs, licks your mouth.

The wind has subsided. The wind has run into the thick of the woods, hidden in some ditch, some old trench, the wind has drowned in the swamp. The wind has worn down and wasted away into a slim thread, spun into a zigzag in the widows. Windless--between the old and the new wind. The sky alights onto the roof of the shed, gray. No more rain. Still no rain. The sea is inaudible. The birds fall silent, the bees don't hum. The leaves are frozen, the grass is soaked. Peace and immobility. The woman sits at the window, she can't move--the air is too thick, too resistant to thought.

She sits in black clothes, her eyes painted black, she smokes. The smoke freezes in the air. Waits. Doesn't know for what.

The only visitor to our house is the former owner's old tomcat.

At night it sleeps up in the hay, by day it disappears somewhere.

You can live here for weeks without seeing a single soul.

Mary Coughlan is singing tonight in "Jaunvigas." She sings about her weak, naive people, about her harsh and impoverished homeland. Her husky, gentle voice spills like a stream of tears through the rooms, inundates the house, her voice and the fog flood the yard, across the meadows, the edge of the forest, the swamps, the swamps, the stagnant waters, the dark swamps.

Lots of swamps here.

There is no direct path through the woods--there's always some little swamp in your way. The drainage ditches haven't been cleaned for decades, the swamps force themselves on the houses, steal grazing ground.

Sedge and horsetails. Cattails.

Rotted tree stumps and the earth's bloody smell.

Black, green, gray, dark brown.

Broad beans in the spring, cranberries in the fall.

Fat mushrooms with yellow caps and white stems along the edge of the swamp.

A rock thrown into the stagnant water gives an abrupt and hollow gurgle, no circles of spreading water, only a startled swarm of mosquitoes takes wing, whining.

The earth rocks underfoot, a branch snaps, fear wells up suddenly, falls across the eyes like a gray veil, hisses in the ears like a snake, stinks like an animal.

To crash through the shrubs and the brushwood with narrowed eyes like a deer, let the branches whip your face and your somersaulting heartbeat even out with the rhythm of your running.

To fall on your face in the meadow on the edge of the forest and greedily inhale the solid, healthy body of the earth. The sun.

(But Sumanis knows the way across all the swamps.)

As fall approaches, grass snakes grow scarce. On the other hand, there are many lizards and blindworms. Tiny baby lizards live in the chink between two boards on the hotbed, shiny little eyes peer out from the dark. But the blindworms lie in the grass or the sand like the copper neck hoops of our ancestors. When you approach, they crawl away unhurriedly.

The Liv cultural festival in Mazirbe. Booming, heartfelt speeches and the flag of the Livs flutters again over their building. Lots of people. I wonder how many of them speak the Liv language?

The shame of seven generations hangs its head.

But there's beer, champagne, cognac, chicken roll, and smoked carp at the buffet. As the Latvian and Liv anthems play, the thirsty people in line stand at attention.

Outdoors, in the evening, through the night, there's an honest-to-goodness blowout, two orchestras slave away in shifts, sweating buckets.

"Molodaja guvernantka bernin rogila, Nekormila, Nepojila, upe iemeta," a pale kid sings into the microphone, and the Latvians jump merrily all over the Livs' bones.

The landscape God has created here cannot be called beautiful in the usual sense. It is monotonous. Wild. Gloomy. Mysterious in its monotony.

You can feel the presence of the border guards everywhere. I'm pleased and amazed--they are friendly, polite, and helpful. When there's another burglary in the village, they pitch in with their dogs (the police are helpless, there is one official policeman with a broken motorcycle for a coastal zone twenty miles long). Now and then they drive out to the loneliest houses at night, to make sure that everything is all right. They know all the locals.

No, these guards don't frighten me. Their tracks in the forest, the seashore, the dunes--these frighten me.

The dune guards the land like a rampart against the sea's aggressive ambitions. Wind on the seashore, the lap of the waves, the immense broad skies. You crawl across a dune and fall into a big bowl--the silence hits your ears, scorching heat, blue sky above your head. In the hollow, two rockets point their noses at the sky. Black, gloomy, eloquent silhouettes against the yellow grass of the dunes. Trenches and bunkers. The silence becomes threatening. The rusted coils of wire tangle in your feet, catch the hem of your skirt.

But from a distance of three steps, the rockets send out a sweet smell of warm wood--old broken wooden rockets.

At night the woman lies in her house and feels how, hidden behind the dunes, along the entire length of the coast, the rotting wooden rockets aim at the stars.

The lighthouse beam caresses the forests all night. Sleep, don't be afraid.

I can feel the way the lighthouse unites the earth with the sea, the forest with the beach, the solitary farms scattered through the woods, the people asleep.

The stars fall toward autumn.

A shining point and a streak in the sky. As the stars fall, the woman goes out into the yard, no fear in the dark. (Or: when you see something beautiful, you forget fear, even in the dark.)

The dog runs out and barks at the sky.

You really need very little to be happy.

To see, to hear, to feel:

how your hollyhock grows, opens, and blooms

how the laundry dries all fragrant in the wind

how the flowerbed breathes freely after weeding

how the sand dries after rain

how the fog lifts

how the evening sneaks up

how the sun rises

how the seasons change.

For lunch, you need new potatoes with dill, a mushroom sauce, butter in one piece, tomatoes and cucumbers with sour cream and onions.

For dinner, pancakes with raspberry or cloudberry jam.

For breakfast, a cup of black coffee.

And then the rains come.

Everything is damp, everything smells.

Of earth, rot, wet wood, of smoke.

Mushrooms grow in the forest.

In the attic, red bilberries ripen on sheets.

Flies copulate and bite.

The sea is fermented and lazy.

The woman walks along the shore, the wet sand solid like freshly poured asphalt. The seawater is green gray, blue gray, brown gray. At the point where the sea meets the clouds hiding the sun it's pure silver. The blue of a storm in the east.

The raindrops roll over the face, the lips, behind the collar. They melt into the sea, the wet sand, the cold sky.

If you sit down on the ground, pull your knees up to your head, hide your face in your knees, shut your eyes, and abandon yourself to the rain, you can forget yourself completely and metamorphose: into a barrel washed up by the sea, into a smooth piece of rotten wood, a pebble, a grain of sand, a drop of rain. You can pour out over the sand and soak into the earth.

Or do the opposite: forget your surroundings and feel only yourself.

A lazy and eternally thoughtless life.

The pearl in the shell.

Warm within and well.

The rains proclaim--September is coming.

Time to go.

The fall will stay.

I can only imagine how the oak will turn yellow and shed its leaves. How the wild boars will come for the potatoes on dark nights. How the rowan berries will be sweet after the frost. How on warm summery days swirling cudgels of fog will roll over from the sea. And how late mushrooms with copper-colored heads will sprout in the white moss of the pine saplings.

Time to go.

The city frightens me from a distance--will I still know how to live there?

Such a long summer, every minute like a drop of honey on my soul.

Such a short summer, it sped by like a windy day.

The woman starts to say good-bye two weeks before leaving.

Oh, yes, it's so far away, but every day is a parting.

Every day says: Soon.

You won't be there, you won't see.

You'll forsake it all, you're a stranger.

Joy isn't shiny anymore, it's tarnished with bitter yearning. Rusty.

Happiness isn't serene. Moments are held too hard.

Soon, soon.

Neither the forest nor the sea nor the swamps will miss you.

Your love is one-sided.

The woman in the twilight by the window. Her eyes painted black, her lips like coal.

She smokes.

She isn't waiting for anything.

On the day of departure the sun comes out after a rain. Everything glints and glitters, the drying dew lights up, the autumn colors begin to throb.

The car that takes the woman away is bright green. You can't find that kind of green in nature.

As the car turns onto the forest road, the sun hides behind a violet cloud, gold dust scatters itself over the treetops and disappears.

At the edge of the swamp Sumanis stands in the bushes.

Waves farewell, smirks. Under his hat, two horns.

The woman looks back. I don't much like autumn in Riga.

Mud and gloomy people.

I want to dye my hair black and go to Malaysia.

To inhale an air as searing and damp as a sauna. There, the leaves of flowers are as green as my car.

The ocean is as hot as the water for sprinkling cucumbers in a tin bath. It smells of good tobacco there, and of palm oil, and of rubber tree sap. There is pink lightning, and rain, warm and thick as milk fresh from the cow. Night is divided from day there only by darkness, but the darkness drops suddenly like a theater curtain.

I will dine there in Chinese restaurants on the shores of the ocean.

At night I'll put an orchid on my pillow.

In the lively streets of Kuala Lumpur, I will melt into a sea of dark people in white clothes, and I will wait for springtime in Latvia.

The woman and autumn.

As it nears, autumn asks: Will you still be here in the spring?

Yes! Yes.

(I want to be.)

Andra Neiburga was born in 1957 in Riga. In 1986 she graduated from the Latvian Academy of Art's design department. While studying, she began to write. Her first and only collection of stories, Izbazti putni un putni buros (Stuffed Birds and Caged Birds), was published in 1988. Neiburga's children's book Stasts par Tilli un sunu viru (A Story about Tille and the Dog Man), was published in 1991. It was well received and was later produced as a play.

Neiburga's prose is marked by a fine feeling for style, colorful and painterly portraits of people and places, and a kind-hearted melancholy. Some of Neiburga's stories have been published in English: "Stuffed Birds and Caged Birds" (AGNI 33, Boston University); and "Mosy Death--Description of a Struggle" (The Picador Book of Contemporary East European Prose). This issue features "Zone" excerpts from Neiburga's summer diary. Neiburga is presently involved in Riga real estate, managing her family's numerous properties. She is married to artist Andris Breze and has a daughter and son.
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Title Annotation:New Latvian Fiction
Author:Neiburga, Andra; Rubess, Banuta
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Date:Mar 22, 1998
Words:6560
Previous Article:The Stairs.
Next Article:Tale No. 13.
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