Love Letters #41

Dear Hana,

Do you know what a wastrel is? I didn’t either, until Master Jeffman called me one today. A wastrel of a boy, he said, shaking his meaty fist at me. What is a boy to do, when called a wastrel? What did I do? I fed the pigeons with his share of the corn, that’s what I did. I fed the pigeons and thought of new ways to become a worse wastrel than I already am. He missed his corn, at supper, and blamed the cook, who was beside herself. I felt truly a wastrel, then, and owned up to it. Suffice it to say that my revenge was short-lived, and I must be more resourceful in future when I decide to carry out acts of subtle retaliation.

On Saturday Twig and I stole some bread from the kitchen. It was for the ducks by Het’s Pond – they seem a little on the waify side lately. Twig reckons it might be because the pond has frozen over, and they have nowhere to fly to. If you’re really quiet of a frosty dawn, you can hear all the manner of bird calls. Jenny wrens, jack daws, tom tits and robin redbreasts. The ducks are quiet, then. You can see them just about waking up, stretching their wings and giving their feathers a sleepy shake. The world is beautiful at dawn; we swing our legs over the side of the bridge and yearn to fish – only we can’t break that stubborn, thick surface of the water.

Twig reckons they should have called it ‘Het’s Lake’, on account of the pond being 40 acres wide. I told him quite dismissively that the idea had already been put to the Council, but to no avail. Twig reckons he is a visionary. He has started wearing those glasses he’d squirrelled away last year, and introduces himself now to the others, the new ones, as ‘Dr Blackadder’. Never to the Masters, of course, they would whip him to a pulp. A prime fellow is my brother, I say, in utmost sarcasm.

In the morning, sometimes, the folk at the House bring their skates down and have a capital time of it. We watch from the bridge, they shout eloquently at each other and have snowball fights on the ice, twirling about and making quite a show of it, their valets and servants bringing them hot cocoa on silver trays, traipsing down the side of the slope as though summoned by magic, floating over the snow like angels of warmth and luxury.

The dawn is our time, though. Our own time, away from the Masters, away from the drudgery, away from the relentless hours of physical exertion. We fall asleep at night as soon as our heads hit the pillows, but we always wake up just before the first light of dawn, when the stars, bright and twinkling in the winter sky, are just starting to fade. We wake up and drag ourselves down to the side of the lake, we listen to the birdsong and saturate our souls in the still atmosphere of a waking world.

And I think of you, Hana, and how I am not truly a wastrel, unless I have wronged you in some way. I am not a wastrel, if the world welcomes me at dawn, and allows me to live in the miraculous time when the skin kisses our part of the globe, and turns night into day. The air shifts, the songs start, and the day stretches, yawns, and slowly embraces the earth.

Yours, always,

Seb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Love Letters #40

Dear Friday,

Am I allowed to write a love letter to a day of the week? Is it the done thing to do? Am I cheating on Tuesday, if I use her generous time to commemorate her competitor?

Oh but Friday, how I look forward to you. I eagerly await your sunrise, I dance through your hours with a spring to my step, even in the dead of winter. You fill me with joy, hope and an anticipation which grows with every hour approaching dusk.

You signify the end of an arduous week, and the blossoming of freedom and a thousand possibilities. You are better than a Saturday or a Sunday, because rest during your hours feels deserved, somehow; earned.

Oh, I love you, Friday. A deep, burgeoning love. A love that breeds of yearning and satisfaction. A love that comes from tenderness and care; a soft lamp on a tired evening, the soft rustle of pages turning in an exciting book, the warm smell of freshly cooked pizza, delivered to the front door.

Friday, you massage my achey feet, you throw my door open for me and the light flooding out is beckoning, full of promise. On other days I walk in stressed, thinking about the work ahead of me, but on your days, you caress me so and my mind empties. My shoulders relax.

I miss you when your last tendrils float away into the deep night, and I long for you before the new week has begun.

You are my new hope, and my old joy.

Yours most faithfully.

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Love Letters #39

Have you ever sailed into a horizon of clouds?

A giant mass of faded blue puff, rising in the distance like a manifestation of a nightmare storm. It’s England, though, it isn’t real. It won’t turn into a tornado; it is too benign for that. It is still, like a painting, a wall of such exquisite detail, as though some artist in the sky painted every stroke with tender love and care.

Every shadow, articulated.

The road winds in and out, up and down ahead, and the sky around the faded blue cloud is an ombre of colour, from the palest blue, to a bright and sundry pinky yellow.

The trees begin to silhouette themselves, but it isn’t quite twilight, yet.

And the clouds billow in the sky as though fuelled by some ferocious fire, only not so bitter, not so black, not so violent.

Still, like a photograph.

A still moment in time, as the sky transcends daylight and becomes that sultry, mysterious mixture of day and night. Not quite here, not quite that.

I love those clouds. Those clouds that don’t quite know what to make of themselves, that take on the hues of the ever-changing sky, shrugging on the colours and exploding in every emotion. So ominous, yet so safe. So surreal, yet so familiar. So strange, yet so reminiscent of thousands of autumnal evenings, throughout the centuries.

And always, always, a fresh wonder to the eyes.

Love Letters #38

Have you ever sunk down into the belly of London?

There are vertical escalators, and sometimes they squeak and squeal, groaning under the weight of a thousand feet every second of every day. Never stopping. Hundreds of stories and minds. Millions of thoughts, whispered in thousands of accents, drowned by the voices of people getting things done.

There are pictures on the metal walls, pictures that move and shift and change shapes, kaleidoscopic in their constant swirling motion, and for a moment you want to go to the theatre and see Les Miserable, and the next moment the thought vanishes from your brain as you frantically feel your way through pale yellow tunnels, following the crowd and wondering if you are going the right way, can’t turn back or else people will shove you back the way you came, the rush of hot air pulling you further and further into the belly of London.

Old walls, crumbling civilisations giving way to new ones.

I was born in London.

Tooting.

Same hospital as my mother was born in. So strange, that thought. Twenty four years apart.

My father fell down the stairs and broke his coccyx bone the day I was born. He was rushing to the hospital to see his first child. For twenty three years he hasn’t been able to sit properly.

When I was six years old, my stomach curled and unfurled itself as I clutched a small pink straw bag, descending on those vertical escalators down, down down below the crowded surface of the busy city.

Do we have to go on the tube? Can’t we go on the overground train?

Don’t be so silly, Lenora. Look sharp now, quickly!

My mother, seasoned, marching through the tunnels with myself and my little brother in tow. Stepping onto the train, grabbing the back of her skirt, sick with fear.

Then the hurtle, the loud screaming of the train on those metal tracks, the blackness outside the windows. Why were there even windows, if there was nothing to look at? Terrified. Barely able to breathe. Is this the stop? Can we get out?

No!? Ohhhh. 

A soft groan, deep in my belly.

Any minute now the lights would turn off and the train would stop and we would be stuck down here in the dark and heat forever and ever and

forever.

Loud, screaming, hurtling, whistling, wailing. I would close my eyes, begging for this nightmare to be over.

When I was eleven I read a story about the people who cleaned the underground tunnels.

You wouldn’t believe what they found there. Giant rats, and fleas the size of cockroaches, flittering in the darkness. An old woman spoke of the horrors of those tunnels. Yet, they were a refuge to many during the war. Safe havens, in giant brick pools under the ancient city of London. Curving under the Thames and even crossing by the long forgotten rivers that people seldom remember, yet traverse past daily.

And still, I was terrified.

The tube?! Really?! We can get to Victoria on the overground. What about a bus?! A bus is so much better.

Oh, grow up, you silly girl.

Stuck to my seat, sometimes shoved under someone’s armpit, holding tight, my stomach swaying as the train hustled and swerved and screamed its way through those hot, windy tunnels. Fear seeped through my skin, soaking my clothes and beading on my upper lip.

The roaring becoming louder, and louder, and louder, rising in volume and ferocity,

 – why is it so angry -?!

I open my eyes.

I am twenty three years old. I am sitting on the tube for the first time in three years, and before that, for the first time nine.

London has not been my home for twelve years.

Yet, every time I step off the train and into Euston or King’s Cross, a rush of overwhelming familiarity hits me.

The smells and the noise pollution, rising high in the sky, thousands of lives picking their way through thousands of machines, breathing in exhaust fumes and coffee grounds, heels on newspapers, sweat pooling in the creases of skin, accents and countries and worlds colliding as people get on with their business.

And I love the tube. I love the tube with all my heart.

I love the feeling of standing on the furthest end, watching everybody and their engrossed detachment from the world around them. The ginger man sitting next to a nun, sneaking peeks at her reading material. The woman who is watching a Netflix show and the audience of standing commuters, eyes glued to her screen behind the grimy glass that separates her seat from the doors.

I love the hurtling, screaming ferocity. I love the traffic of humans, all hurrying, running, racing, sweating, on the same journey but so trained in avoiding any real contact with each other. Physically pressed up against each other but mentally floating high above the tunnels through which they are carried at top speeds.

I don’t love London at all. I might love the memories I have, which lurk around unexpected corners and in strange places. That place that I vomited outside the Natural History museum. That spot in the British library where I tried to hide those chewits. That fountain in Hyde Park where I sprained my ankle and subsequently cried all the way home on the 319. That tree where the dog barked at my brother and I, scaring our five and four year old selves half to death. That rookery where we rolled down the hills and I got grass stains on my blue Alice in Wonderland dress.

But I love the Tube.

I love the old terror that rises in my throat like bile, because my twenty three year old self recognises it for what it really is;

Adrenaline.

Excitement.

Adventure.

Thrill.

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Love Letters #37

When he sauntered into her life one sunny day she didn’t expect to see a pair of muddy trousers hanging on her washing line. The mud had dried into a clay-like colour in the heat of the blazing afternoon, and she squinted at them, not quite believing her eyes.

‘Did you wear those trousers?’ she asked him, and he stopped at her front gate, looking at her.

‘Are you talking to me?’

She had been sitting calmly on her porch steps having a glass of tea, when she noticed the abhorrent state those trousers were in. She really felt irritated, and was compelled to set her warm glass down and stand up. The trails of the torn ends of her jeans tickled her ankles.

‘Yes! Did you wear those trousers?’

He put his hand on her gate, and glanced at the trousers.

‘No,’ he said, pointing at his own, ‘I have trousers, thank you very much.’

She surveyed his ones. They were capris, the hem stopping halfway up his calves. His feet were enclosed in a pair of canvas shoes, like some kind of bogus boater. His calves were tanned a deep, satisfying brown. Like darkened caramel.

‘You sure do,’ she nodded in approval, ‘Would you like some tea?’

‘What kind of tea?’ he asked tentatively. He kept glancing at the muddy trousers.

‘I have a lovely range for you to choose from.’

‘I can’t turn down a range of tea.’

He pushed the gate open, and his walk towards her was wary. The trousers watched him as he made his way up the path. She didn’t stare at him; she picked up her own tea and climbed the stairs, pushing the door open to reveal what could only be described as darkness in the bright sunshine.

‘It’s curious, that you have muddy trousers hanging from your washing line,’ he said, as the darkness within swallowed him whole.

‘They were perfectly clean when I hung them out this morning.’ There was a cross tone in her voice.

On the other side, the entrance to her house was airy and cool. Large windows were flung open, and the breeze wafting in fanned her pale pink chiffon curtains gently. Her floors were gleaming and wooden, with small rugs placed in odd places. One at the foot of some carpeted stairs. One outside the kitchen door. And one just under the window.

She beckoned him into the kitchen where she put the kettle on. He saw that she had a large, sprawling back garden with a little hill right at the back.

As she took a tall glass with a small handle out of her cupboard, he wondered why she didn’t hang her washing out in the back garden. There seemed to be acres of space out there.

‘I have camomile, vanilla chai, peppermint, liquorice, ginger and lemon, fennel, beetroot, nettle…’, she pulled each teabag out of a large glass orbed container as she named them.

‘I’ll have a liquorice please.’

She looked up at him, and a small smile formed on one corner of her mouth. She plopped the teabag in and poured the boiling water into the glass. It cracked loudly, but didn’t break. Small cracks spread like tentacles around the glass, gleaming as they caught the light, and as the water turned dark purple, the cracks took on a magic of their own.

He took the glass she handed to him, silent in wonder, then followed her back outside to sit on the porch steps and stare at the trousers.

‘What’s all this about those trousers, then?’ he asked, sipping his tea. It burned his tongue, so he set it down next to him and licked his lips.

‘I expect someone’s worn those trousers and muddied them, and put them back hoping I wouldn’t notice. It’s quite a bother, really. I suppose I will have to wash them again.’

‘Well we must find out who the culprit is!’

‘It’s happened several times before. I’ve never caught the scumbag. I expect they are quite adept at evading notice.’

‘That is preposterous!’ he said, indignantly, ‘If I were you, I would not rest until that grimy clod was caught and skinned! The audacity of wearing those trousers and not washing them before returning them!’

She looked at him properly, then, surprise on her face.

‘Why, those are my sentiments exactly!’ she said, ‘What shall we do?’

‘Well,’ he leaned closer to her, a conspiratorial expression on his face, ‘I say we set a trap.’

She looked delighted. They carried on plotting, their heads close together on the porch, their teas forgotten, well into the evening. The shadows grew longer around them, and the breeze felt a little sharper. Finally, when he stood up to leave, they had a concrete plan between them to catch that pesky trousers thief.

As the years went by, their plots grew more and more calculated. But the thief was too clever for them, and evaded them at every turn, often setting the very same traps back on them the next morning! It was all a fuddle, really. In the end, after they got married (which they both decided was an excellent idea given that they were co-conspirators in this very large and very complicated plot), they gave in and hung two pairs of trousers out.

The thief never did clean the pair borrowed, but they were always returned, which was enough to convince them both of the small good left in humanity, even if it didn’t extend so far as to include cleaning the trousers one has borrowed to do muddy work.

 

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Love Letters #36

Dear Tom,

It was Anne Shirley who told her darling husband-to-be Gilbert that she was ‘alone but not lonely’ one beautiful evening whilst walking through the graveyard of Summerside, that year she was away teaching there. A mighty dreadful time she had with those Pringles, I tell you. I was reading of her walks on the train; the countless descriptions of wind surging through the tree lined avenues of the most wondrous places on P.E. Island, and I felt the cool breeze on my face, I saw the violets in their numerous beauty, I smelt the flowers in bloom and the voice of Rebecca Dew echoed uncomfortably close to my ear, that I looked up abruptly, only to see the heads of my fellow modern train passengers, oblivious to my rapture, in raptures (or otherwise) of their own. I laughed loudly at some point, her characters do come up with the most curious things! A rather stern Aunt Mouser told her niece to not quote the bible flippantly, and then turned to Anne and said, ‘You must excuse her, Miss Shirley, she just ain’t used to getting married.‘ Tom, forgive me when I tell you that I found this so funny that tears streamed down my face!

When I turned the book over, there was a little ode to Montgomery, saying that her work ‘continues to draw countless visitors to Prince Edward Island each year.’

I will be very frankly honest with you, dearest, when I say that my heart sank when I read that. I imagined the Prince Edward Island will not be as I imagined it if I ever do go. I made up my mind then and there to never go. I don’t want to see roaring cars and buses and city roads with white paint. I don’t want to see areas of desolation and corrugated iron roofs. I don’t even want to see people wearing modern clothes. I don’t want to see tourists. Granted, they may be like-minded tourists, but tourists they will be nonetheless. I want it to be just how Anne and Emily and Pat describe it, and my heart aches to know it will never be so. I was born too late, I suppose.

I last read Anne of the Island at the age of fifteen. I was reading the first three books over and over again, and only recently did I stumble upon the fourth book, all these years later.

I was trying to fault Anne, I found, whilst reading the fourth book of the Green Gables series. I was trying to fault her for being ‘too perfect’ or ‘too beautiful’ or ‘too well liked’. She is well liked enough, and is able to deftly turn everybody and make them adore her, sure. However, I couldn’t help but fall in love with her adult self again, all these years later as an adult myself and not a child.

Anne is timelessly incredible. She is not too beautiful, because she doesn’t see herself so, and many others pointedly tell her of her carroty hair. She is not too perfect, because she tells Gilbert in an epistolary fashion that she has to accept that not everybody will like her, when certain people very vehemently do not. She is not too anything, and yet she is perfect. She is who I aspire to be.

She is hopeful, she is resourceful. Her words dance with life and laughter, and I imagine her grey eyes to be starry and full of light. She talks to everybody, is friendly with everybody, tries to help all sorts of people. She even cancelled her trip back home to sit with forty year old Pauline Gibson because she knew Pauline was lonely and henpecked by her grumpy old mother. How selfless is that? I don’t doubt that a lot of people were like that at the time, and didn’t think twice of being so generous with themselves and their time. Nowadays everybody is so ‘busy’, so ‘private’, so ‘personal’; never talking to strangers or even trying to find out who one’s neighbours are! Nobody just calls on a newcomer anymore, nobody sends each other cake, nobody calls each other over for supper unless they know them very well, and that is why, I suppose, a lot of us are so lonely!

A little sprinkle of Anne makes any day brighter. I found my day to bloom after reading a few chapters of her, and my heart ached a little, because I would never be able to meet her or become chums with her or wonder the nooks and crannies of the Island with her. She makes a small town like a little heaven here on earth.

I learnt from her to find joy in every aspect of my life. I learnt that even though I don’t live in Avonlea with her, I can find my own little Avonlea just where I am.

I love Anne Shirley, and I can see why others do too; and I am excited to finish following her journey through the eight precious books penned by our very own Lucy Maud Montgomery. Over and over again, delving into the land of magic, spirits and the most eccentric little characters one could ever dream up. She makes my heart yearn for something I can’t quite touch.

Yours most truly,

Amelia.

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James Hill

  

Love Letters #35

When they arrived there was a downpour. An opening of the heavens, cracking like the earth’s skull, and the rain gushed down like a broken tap. The footman would not hear of her stepping out unaided, he took his own coat off to shield her from the torrents as he guided her out of the carriage and up the steps, which became a waterfall, sloshing around her perfectly gleaming shoes and ruining them.

They entered the building and he bowed, folding his coat to himself before dashing out again. She watched as he clambered aboard the back of the coach, sodden, and said something to the driver before they clattered away down the cobbled street, the sound of the wheels vanishing amid the clamour of thunder and pattering rain.

If it were not for her dress she would have chased him down the street, letting her carefully pinned hair fall and soak up the rain. She clutched her skirts now in her hands, and let her dainty, sodden shoes take her across the perfectly polished floors and through the main doors of the cathedral. One last glance back, but the street was empty, vendors packed away and doorways tightly shuttered against the grim atmosphere. She couldn’t see to the end of the road, a cloudy haze formed of soot and torrential rain formed a wall, blocking her from the world she could not touch, and which could not touch her.

Dear Louie,

It’s better that you know now – the child is yours. There is no way you could claim him, he will have to be the next heir to the throne. 

Yours,

Dorothea

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Love Letters #34

I didn’t know I could feel that way. That reckless abandon. That absolute peace. It felt like I was in a small bubble, and I knew it would pop at any moment, but I didn’t want to think of that until it happened.

I just wanted to enjoy the now most thoroughly.

We walked on the mountain for hours every morning, as the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky. I could feel its malignant beam on my back, scorching through my clothes, making my skin prickle uncomfortably before it broke down and wept rivers of sweat. My feet were sore by the end of the day.

We ate whatever we could get our hands on. Pineapples chopped, mangoes until the orange stickiness dribbled down our chins and under our shirts. Strawberries by the bowlful. Fruit in abundance.

We jumped in the lake straight after, with all our clothes on. You swore loudly because the water was deceivingly cold, and we glanced back at our parents, our relief palpable when we saw them laughing on the lake’s edge, oblivious to our transgression.

We cycled on old rusty bikes found in the garage, the wheels patched and pumped, the chains oiled. Our fingers were grimy with mud and grease, and the summer wind rushed on our faces and separated every strand of our sun bleached hair. You burned severely one day, and your mother smothered you in aloe vera and I rolled around laughing as you squelched outside like a giant slug, a brilliant scowl on your face.

We were bloated with lemonade and stuffed full of sugar, our feet hardened over the span of the two months we were there, browned and baked by the heat and roughened by hot ground beneath our bare soles.

It ended though, as I knew it would. My father had an office to get back to and yours had patients to dissect. Our mothers bundled us away in our respective cars, stuffed blankets down by our feet as we sweltered within, our noses pressed to the windows, watching as the adults exchanged handshakes and claps on the back, and our cars trundled on the dusty road, the distance between them growing with each second.

They didn’t spare a thought for the little people. They dragged their children along wherever they went and they didn’t think that in leaving the holiday house they seared our hearts. Well, my heart. I’d never experienced anything like the friendship we had. the fearlessness, the secrets, the tents and the battles.

There was never a summer quite like that summer. I don’t know who you are, and my parents are vague whenever I ask them. So I leave it, thinking perhaps someday in the future we may meet again and rekindle that bond between spirits.

But I know it will never be the same. I am too old to feel that surge of excitement when I think of the day ahead. Ants and beetles on the ground are nothing to me now. Your voice echoes through the years sometimes, and that summer heavily influences all of my choices and the way I respond to the world.

It’s the smallest things, sometimes. The smallest things.

Love Letters #33

 

She was standing in the middle of the road, when I first set eyes on her. A light, silken shirt was all that draped her small shoulders in the icy January air. The road was wet with perspiration, and the branches bare. Her face was pale, her eyes bright, and her hair a cloud of golden silky curls, bouncing as she danced this way and that, her feet turning in all directions and her arms moving side to side, up and down.

I noticed her first because she was dancing, but dancing is the usual sight in this vibrant city of ours. I did my double take because of her smile. When she smiled, her eyebrows rose, and she looked almost… surprised. And her chin grew pointy, and the tops of her cheeks pointed outwards too.

If you really stood back and thought about it, she did have quite a sharp little face. But it was so dear and sweet and her eyes sparkled with life and crinkled with joy.

Man, he thought, she really does love to dance. Somebody was standing in front of her, another friend I think, and the other friend was laughing away but in an awkward way, certainly not joining in.

Cars drove right past her, on both sides. Motorbikes weaved their way around her and people glanced at her then glanced away. Did she make them uncomfortable? He really didn’t see how they could do that. She made him so happy. He stood from his safe distance on the pavement, as the sky drizzled gently around him and slowly soaked him through. And he watched her dance away and laugh.

Presently she noticed him watching her. She kept glancing at him, and then she directed her smile at him, giving him his own little dance show. She was waving him over. Her mouth was miming,

Come join me!

He shook his head, smiling widely. She laughed, and he heard the tinkling giggle over the traffic.

Come on!

He didn’t want to. He knew his arms would be too thick and his body wouldn’t listen to him. He was content to just watch her rhythm, the way life seemed to happen around her, draw her in its flowing current. He was one of those who stood on the fringe of things, while life swept her up in its energetic arms and took her whichever way it chose to run.

Please!

A heart shape with her ever moving fingers, and then, as quickly as she had moulded her hands, she was twirling in another direction.

His feet moved against his will, then. Weaving through the traffic, until he was on the same island she stood on, the white painted thick divide in the traffic, separating one directional flow from the other. The no man’s land of the high street.

She laughed, waved at her friend, and took his arms, moving them this way and that, until he, too, felt part of the current of life. He felt it first in his fingertips, a tingling that spread through his body all the way down to his toes, a small spitfire of energy, moving his limbs without direction from his brain. He closed his eyes, feeling the cold, gentle spray on his face, and let the rhythm of the world take him.

***

And that, is how I met my wife.

Love Letters #32

When she looked over the edge of the mooring, she saw the sky. She saw an infinite galaxy of stars spinning away from her in the gentle ripples prodded along by the breeze. Her toes careened a little, so filled with wonder was she, and she felt herself falling ever so slowly forward. Or maybe the sky was surging ever so slowly towards her.

The heavens spread out before her, beneath her feet, and she was suddenly rendered so insignificant in the midst of this surreal vastness. And the universe was still, silent, except for that thrumming background noise one hears even in the depths of the womb. The thudding continuum that is time and space and the place we all come from, and recognise, but are not fully aware of. The sound we all know, and when we hear it we suddenly stand still, recognising the call, but not quite understanding it.

The world behind her fell away; growing more distant with each moment that passed by. Her ears were ringing, almost, and the sounds on the wharf behind her faded. The clank and the medley of voices, human, living, all became something of the … past?

And what would happen if she succumbed to this unearthly sound, coming from the stars, and let the ripples carry her away?

 

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