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Sigitas Parulskis is one of Lithuania’s most fêted and influential contemporary writers. He is a Lithuanian poet, playwright, novelist, and literary critic. Parulskis is ironic, critical, and often very provocative. He likes to explore the trauma experienced by Lithuanians of his generation, who grew up under Soviet rule and came of age during the country’s transition to independence. The less brutal and more beautiful side of his writing explores the loneliness of being human and the nature of reality with unsurpassed sensitivity and depth.

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Sigitas Parulskis

Two excerpts from the novel “City of Hushed Lilies”

9. The Mountaineer

Simonas uncorks the bottle of wine and pours the old man a glass, then one for himself. The old man smells the wine, and closes his eyes. His nose is probably the only sensory organ that he can still trust.

After taking a cab home, Simonas slept for half an hour, but then he woke up with an awful hangover. He went to the store and bought a couple of bottles of white wine – a pharmacist had told him it would be better for his heartburn than red. After the wine, he felt better, and called Anna. Her phone was turned off. He tried again and again, but it was always the same. Not surprising. It isn’t much fun drinking in the morning, he thought, I should drop by to see the Mountaineer. Even if the old guy doesn’t drink, at least I’ll have the company of another living creature. Drinking with the television or the computer is a drag.

So they’ve been sitting together in silence for a while, when Simonas finally blurts out:

“Last time you promised to tell me about the guy in that photograph.”

The old man nods.

“Is it true that the mountains are like a slut – you keep wanting to go back, but you could never live with her?” says Simonas, regretting it instantly, as he might be misunderstood. Barely a few strands on his head, lame, dried up, a withered left hand that looks like some dinosaur’s undeveloped limb – talking about sex, whores, and the like doesn’t really make sense with a person like this. On the other hand, how many times has he been mistaken when he’s tried to imagine what a person looks like based on their voice. Especially with women. Sometimes a beautiful voice belongs to an unfortunate body. And sometimes the opposite.

Mountaineer doesn’t reply, and they gradually enter a zone of awkward silence.

“Forgive me, that’s not what I meant.”

The old man nods silently.

Simonas gets up and once more takes in the photographs covering the wall: young, attractive people in mountaineering gear, some holding ice picks, others cameras, ropes slung across their bodies, smiling as though they had just discovered treasures guarded by elves.

“Recently I saw this woman … quite elderly. Maybe seventy. She too is good with a rope – she very energetically pulled a heavy bucket up to the fifth floor. And it looked to me like there was something at the end of the rope … like a buckle?”

“We called them carabiners,” explains the old man, sipping his wine. “How are you connected?”
For some reason, Simonas thinks the old man is referring to his relations with Salomėja.

“Maybe sex. At least I think so. It’s hard to say what’s going on in her head. Women of that age are still playing. An adventure. Summer will end and the game will end.”

“Are you sleeping with a seventy-year-old woman?” asks the old man, more irony than surprise in his voice.
 
“That could be interesting,” replies Simonas. “That could be a really interesting experience … I thought you were asking about Salomėja. No that woman, that older woman – I saw her only from a distance … in the New Town, talking to a taxi driver, who … It was a completely accidental, random encounter.”

“An interesting random encounter,” says the old man. He closes his eyes, once more inhales through his nostrils, and takes another sip of wine.
Simonas feels disappointed – the old man is about to nod off, and won’t tell him the story.  He went to see this derelict, hoping for something interesting or unexpected. Old age is misunderstood. Irrational, unfounded respect for an elderly person often leads to disappointment. Usually it’s only the age that is revered, and there’s nothing to respect in the individual.

But then the old man starts to tell the story. He tells it as though he has been waiting for Simonas a long time, and can now finally lay out all that has accumulated in his soul, or wherever else those damned stories get stuck. No doubt he would have told it all to anyone who had the patience, the desire, and the time to listen. A drunken Simonas usually has time, and desire, and patience. It all just depends on the amount of alcohol.

“We were on a glacier, not far from the peak. We needed a few hours to get to the wall, because we were getting ready to scale it. That view … The Milky Way shimmering above our heads, the western wall of the mountain before us. In the mountains it feels like you’re looking at photographs … maybe paintings. But the kinds of paintings He might have created. I don’t know if I should say it – God. What kind of God, which God? An angry, vengeful, jealous one? Or a playful, creative one? Dehydrated food, medicine, equipment, radio connections – we had everything ready. But on Tien Shan, like on other mountains, you’re never guaranteed good weather conditions. We hiked along a moderately challenging ridge of cliffs and ice-covered snow. Then we started to scale the wall.” The Mountaineer glances at Simonas, and waves his hand. “I know that this is like showing holiday snaps. They mean memories, special moments, but they’re torture and boredom to the person you’re showing them to. I won’t tell you about the actual climb, though sleeping in a swallow’s nest is unforgettable … Do you know what that could mean?”
Simonas shakes his head. To him, a swallow’s nest suggests clay, spit, and droppings.

“The swallow’s nest is a tilting shelf, not quite a meter wide, with a cliff leaning over it. Our tent hung loosely from a safety rope attached to the cliff. It protected us from the wind, but there wasn’t enough room for any of us to lie – that was the swallow’s nest, and the five of us could barely fit in it. We sat huddled on piles of ropes, tied to each other and everything else. Suppressing hunger and thirst as best we could, we settled down to spend the night. When one part of your body was numb, you looked for a more comfortable position, unavoidably waking your neighbor. It went on like that until the morning.”

The old man sips his wine in silence, and looks at the wall of photographs.

“We scaled the peak in a storm, and then the wind gradually calmed down, and as we descended it snowed like on Christmas Day, although it was August. It was a magical scene – huge expanses of white, untouched by human feet, sparkling and shimmering like diamonds. And again that feeling that here, in the mountains, greater forces are at play, and that just calling them nature isn’t enough. But maybe it’s only we humans who want that, maybe there isn’t anything else – just the blind drive to reproduce, and all those mountains …” The Mountaineer sighs. “But it’s that indescribable, cosmic feeling that draws people back to the mountains. They return again and again, and sometimes stay there – for those feelings of freedom, creation, emptiness, purity …

“We were back on the glacier, sliding down, summersaulting through snowdrifts. I was in love, at least I think I was, but looking at it now from a distance … I don’t know, but in any case I fell. For a while, maybe two or three minutes, maybe longer, I was unconscious. When I came to, I realized there was ice beneath me. I tried to stand, but slipped and fell on my knees once more, and kneeling there saw something unbelievable, chilling. I actually thought I had lost consciousness again. Or maybe I suffered concussion and was still having hallucinations. From below – more precisely from the ice – a face looked up at me. The eyes were closed, but the face was turned to the side, as though about to wake up. It was like looking through glass. Through someone’s bedroom window.”

The old man pauses in silence, and glances at Simonas.

“Do you do any sport?” he asks, raising his glass to take a sip of wine.

“I’m a drinker,” says Simonas. It isn’t very convincing, but the old man doesn’t really care. “At school I was like everyone else, but books mattered to me more.”

“That’s just an excuse.”

“It wouldn’t come at the top of a list of dumb excuses.”

The old man nods his head, and then goes on.

“At first I thought there was just a man lying there. Kneeling down, I looked straight into his face. But after clearing away another patch of ice, I saw her too, the young woman. They were together. In the ice, as if asleep.”

“Sounds like a scary version of Sleeping Beauty,” Simonas comments, but seeing the old man’s questioning look, he shakes his head. “Ignore me. Like I said, I’m just a drinker who reads books.”

“Ah-ha,” says the old man, leaning forward in his chair. “Do you know what that woman’s name was?”

“Which one?” asks Simonas, confused. “The one in the ice?”

For a second he wonders if the Mountaineer’s whole story is some kind of riddle, or a game. “Sleeping Beauty?”

The old man turns towards the window, looking out as though disappointed with Simonas. Then he struggles to get up, and moves slowly towards the toilet.

“Back in a minute,” says the Mountaineer.

Simonas goes out to the balcony and lights up. He likes observing the city while drunk: people coming home from work, or rushing to the shops, walking with full shopping bags, talking on the phone, walking around newly bought or just damaged cars. He watches them all, and wonders how they can be so alive, so vibrant, so incomprehensible and unpredictable. Bloody gorgeous people.

The old man collapses into his armchair, leans his head back against it, and closes his eyes. Simonas waits for the story to continue – he saw the frozen couple and then what? There has to be some moral to it.

“You know,” says Simonas, “I saw the film Smoke. It tells a similar story: someone went into the mountains, and never came back. Died or something. Then, years later, his grown son also goes into the mountains, and suddenly finds his father. Like those other two. Frozen in the ice. But the biggest shock for the son is that he sees his father perfectly preserved, as though still alive, but younger than he is now.”
“Until things like that happen to you, you think they can only be fiction.”

“The funny thing is that life sometimes deals you such hands that you would think they could only be badly written stories. That’s why the expression ‘like in real life’ doesn’t make sense in art.”

“And what makes sense?”

“What do you mean?”

“What makes sense in art?” asks the Mountaineer.

“I don’t know. Whether something is convincing or not – and that depends on a lot of factors. It’s hard to explain.”

“So,” says the old man, “it’s hard to explain. Life is also hard to explain. Even to oneself.”

Simonas drinks some wine.

“And what happened next? You pulled them from the ice? Left them there?”

“They were young, lying there in each other’s arms, the man on his back, the woman on her side, holding him. As though asleep, with her nose in his neck. My Kristina liked to sleep like that. Pressing her cold nose right here, just above my collarbone, and when she’d doze off I would feel her drooling on to my shoulder.”

“I’m not sure, but my friend the taxi driver, the one who helps the old lady with the bucket, I think he said her name is Kristina.”

The Mountaineer looks at him as though suddenly annoyed.

Simonas waves his hand at a photograph over his shoulder.

“Is that her?”

The old man nods.

“They were looking for me. Kristina was beside herself, she kept asking if I had broken anything, if I felt sick, or dizzy. Everything was fine. We returned to camp, but I gradually realized that something was wrong. I couldn’t get the frozen couple out of my head. Did I actually see them – that young man and woman? I didn’t tell anyone about it, because the more I thought about it, the more I believed that I … that it was some kind of hallucination, a blackout, delirium, from concussion or a lack of oxygen.”

The Mountaineer falls silent. Simonas pours him some wine, then serves himself. For a while, they sit there quietly.

“And then?” asks Simonas. “You went back?”

“Where?” asks the Mountaineer in surprise.

“Well, back there – to the glacier, to see if you hadn’t imagined it.”

“No, I didn’t go back. After that, something happened. Something bad.”

Simonas turns his eyes towards the window. He suddenly realizes that he’s stuck in a great human drama, that he didn’t get there of his own free will, and that there’s no way in hell he wanted to be a witness to it.

“Without telling Kristina, I left for another expedition, and the wedding … It didn’t happen,” says the Mountaineer very quietly, without any hand-wringing.

“But how then …” Simonas starts to say, but stops. He realizes what he wants to ask, or more precisely what the old man wants to say. “Do you mean that that image frightened you? That it made you fear that you would die with Kristina?”

“I thought about it for a long time, I had a lot of time – the rest of my life. What I feared most was not death, but life, or more precisely … It’s stupid, of course, but it was marriage itself. I was still very young, and marriage started to look to me like ice – in which Kristina and I would be trapped forever. Domestic life.”

“You acted like a real man … that is, like a certain type of man. There are many stories about men who are afraid of responsibility,” said Simonas, almost envious that he hadn’t thought of that version himself – marriage as two corpses trapped in ice. Damn it, how many married men or women would agree with those words without blinking. Of course, the wine has improved the image, intensified the emotions, but it still looks to him like a very good one. Like a story, something from Hollywood, whatever you want. But all nice things are like stories, and all shitty ones like life.

“Love crashes on to people like an avalanche … and when they recover they see that they are frozen dead in the ice …” Simonas tries to develop the image but stops, because the Mountaineer is staring and smiling at him.

“You’re laughing at me? There wasn’t any couple frozen in the ice, right?”

Suddenly Simonas thinks that the Mountaineer is simply mocking him, that the whole story about the frozen lovers – and they had to be lovers, because otherwise the story wouldn’t have had any emotional appeal – is a story for fools. And he, Simonas, is the fool.

The old man says nothing, breaks off a piece of cheese, and chews it slowly.

“Could you find out about that woman, the one with the bucket?”

Simonas pats his pockets.

“I could call. I think I wrote down the number … the taxi driver’s number. No, I probably have his card …” And only then does he understand what the Mountaineer has said. “You think that that Kristina is your Kristina?”

“I haven’t seen her for more than forty years.”

“Now that’s something,” says Simonas. “That’s really something.” And then he doesn’t know what else he can say. He looks around. “And what do you do?”

“I’m retired, disabled.”

“Sure, but you still have to do something all day long.”

“I sit and look out of the window,” says the Mountaineer.

Simonas looks out of the window, the same scene that old man sees: a ravine, bushes, part of a flowing river.

“As Heraclitus said of Ephesus, life is like the Olympics: some play, others trade, and the rest watch. And they aren’t the worst bunch.”

“And what about those two in the ice?”

The old man shakes his head.

“Long ago a plane went down in the Andes. There was a search, but nothing was found. And then after many years it was found in a completely different place to where they were looking. It was found at the foot of a mountain. The plane had crashed into the snow, broken apart, then the snow turned to ice, and with that ice the shards of the plane slowly travelled down. Down and down, until finally the ice melted and the wreckage was found.

“Sooner or later, everything is revealed,” says Simonas.

“Sooner or later,” says the Mountaineer.

Simonas again goes out to the balcony to smoke … Good story. So crazy that it’s good. He could even write something. Or at least try.

 

 

* * *

Part Two

The morning of the third day brings a May downpour. The father and son ignore it at first, and continue swinging their shovels, but soon the bottom of the pit begins to fill up with muddy water, dark and cocoa-colored from the loamy soil, and the two scramble out of the filthy pool.
 
They sit together in the open door of the shack erected on a wagon, and stare out at the bruised, dark blue on the edge of the sky, how it spreads and spreads until it covers the heavens, and the rain intensifies. The thunder that has been rumbling at a distance all morning finally rolls into the valley, and now every flash of lightning against the dark blue background is accompanied by a big crash – like gigantic sheets of steel being ripped apart. Fiery blades of lightning occasionally tear open a piece of the dark mass of sky and sling it into the jaws of the howling wind. Eventually, the wind calms, and the rain crashes down in full force. Father and son stare silently at the white, impenetrable wall of thrumming water.

At the height of the storm, one edge of the pit suddenly shifts; a large piece of earth breaks off in a neat half-arc, and slips soundlessly to the bottom.

“Shit,” mutters the father, rummaging nervously for a cigarette.

The rain starts to subside, and Simonas hears a sound that is neither the knocking of drops nor the rustling of pines. Something rustles faintly under the wagon a few times. Simonas picks up a chip of wood and throws it right in front of the door. A moment later, the shiny black button of a nose, with stiff grey whiskers jutting out at the sides, pokes out from underneath, and cautiously sniffs the wood chip; a shiny glass-like sphere of an eye looks the seated humans up and down, before the creature vanishes under the wagon.

“It got lost,” says the father, his eyes closed. Pressing a brown cigarette butt between the tips of his fingers, he takes a last lip-burning drag, picks up a shovel, cants his head to tell Simonas to follow, and marches towards the pit. Before going back to the pit, he turns again towards the wagon, watches his son patting the wet, lost rabbit’s head for a moment, and without saying anything, climbs back down.

Although the manager promised the landlord would drop by, the man never shows up. The father stares at the building plans for a long time, calculating something in his head. The son sees his lips moving silently. Like people do when they’re praying, or counting money.

“We need to go and get some rocks,” says the father, and they both walk towards the horse. The father straps the harness to a large iron tray, takes the reins in his hand, and coaxes the horse forwards. Simonas gazes at the darkening statue of the Mother of God in the distance, then turns toward the southern end of the valley.

“Let’s go down, we won’t find any by the road,” says Simonas; and without waiting for the father to answer, without even looking at him, he starts walking south. The father observes his son carefully for a moment, then turns the horse towards the bottom of the valley.

The horse drags the iron tray, which rattles and thumps every time it goes over a rock.

“We don’t need any small ones,” warns the father. “Make sure they’re at least the size of a head.”

The further they go down the hill, the more rocks there are, as though the field stones had stormed the top of the hill, but had lost momentum and got eternally stuck halfway up the slope.

Simonas bends down by each rock, picks it up, and turns towards his father. The father’s head is not large; his ears stick out, with tufts of russet and grey hair growing out of them; his shoulders are narrow, but brawny and muscular. Most of the rocks are stuck at least halfway into the ground. Simonas sticks the crowbar in, the father grabs it with both hands, and wrenches the stone from its dark, damp bed. The father’s hands are tanned and strong, with the veins jumping out of them, thick and branching, like a bolt of lightning in the sky. His muscles are knotted like woven willow branches. They grab the rock together, and roll it on to the metal tray.

By the evening, they are close to the band of trees that stretches along the edge of the valley. As the father said, the thickly growing alders and occasional birches conceal a stream. The spring flooding is long over, and even after heavy rain the stream is barely half a foot deep. Here and there, stones in brown monks’ habits poke out of the water. Simonas takes off his shoes, and wades into the weak current. He turns over the closest rock, and an eelpout wriggles out from under it. The father stands on the bank, picks up the rocks and carries them towards the horse. When the metal tray is full, the father takes the reins and urges on the horse. Simonas remains standing in the water for a while, feeling the freezing cold penetrate his joints. A few more minutes, and he has a strange feeling – that he no longer has feet or calves, that his legs end at his knees.

Placing his feet carefully, he wades downstream a little. The stream gradually deepens, and Simonas climbs back on to the bank. On the sandy edge of the riverbank, between the grass and the water, he can clearly see a single footprint – the spread imprints of the toes, the water collecting in the place of the heel. He holds his own foot above it, but the footprint is obviously smaller. A woman’s foot, he thinks. He squats down and looks at it carefully. A girl’s. But it’s silt, when you pull your foot out, it contracts, so the foot could have been an adult’s. In the silt, even a Yeti’s footprint might look like a child’s. But Simonas is sure it belongs to a girl.

He walks back barefoot, his heart beating more rapidly than usual. He feels like Robinson Crusoe discovering a human footprint on the beach for the first time in many years.

They collect rocks all day, and by evening there is a big pile, many of them covered by dried mud that looks like clotted blood. The father stands there, smoking, staring at the setting sun. Simonas walks around the other side of the pile, which blocks the father, so that only his head is visible. His face glows in the red sunset, his eyes are closed, cigarette smoke glides slowly from his nostrils.

The next morning, the manager arrives and says that the landlord couldn’t visit them, that he would probably come the next week. Simonas sits leaning against the trunk of a pine tree, carving a twig with a penknife. The manager takes the father aside, and Simonas sees that he gives the father money for food. He can’t hear what they’re saying, but the father is unhappy, shakes his head and presses his right hand against his thigh. He does this when he’s displeased. The manager says goodbye, and drives off.

The father goes over to the water tank, strips to the waist, opens the tap and washes. He splashes, he snorts like a horse. He isn’t careful about saving water – he never forgets to remind Simonas not to waste it, but he wastes it himself.

“Bring me a clean shirt,” Simonas hears. He stands up, puts his carving on the ground, goes over to the trailer, and picks up a shirt that used to be blue and smells of cheap detergent.

The father gets dressed, tucks the shirt into his pants, his right pant leg into his sock, gets on a bicycle, and rolls down the hill towards the Mother of God. Soon, all that is left of him is a rising column of dust.

3.

Simonas wakes at midnight; he wakes with a start, a feeling of fear gripping his chest, as though he had dreamt he was called by his name several times by a horrifying, monstrous voice. He lies in bed for a short while, staring in front of him into the dark, then quickly pulls on his pants and yesterday’s still-buttoned shirt, slips into his running shoes, and goes outside. The night is starry, herds of whitish fog huddle in the valley. Surrounded by deferential cattle, the Mother of God stands there, like a confident shepherd. He looks at her, and he too is overcome with peace. Someone is standing there in the night, the dark, the fog, the rain … Someone has to stand there, so that it is safe, he thinks, before falling asleep, perhaps not even thinking, just feeling, that this is how it should be.

The father does not appear. Simonas wakes up very hungry, but there is nothing left to eat apart from a handful of barley. At first he thinks of lighting a fire and making porridge, but then he changes his mind. He only heats up the kettle, drops a bit of tea into the boiling water, lets it brew for a few minutes, and then takes it off the heat. He throws a few grains of barley into his mouth and chews. They don’t taste great, but he’ll get used to it. Washing them down with tea, he eats the last few handfuls of grain, throwing bits to the rabbit. The animal does better – he’s perfectly happy with the dandelion leaves sprouting everywhere. Simonas has named him Rain. Rabbit Rain sounds like a first name and a last name: Hello, I’m Rabbit Rain, I fell from the sky. No, no, I didn’t fall, I slid down a white wall of water, so that I would be fed and petted.

Simonas searches the entire wagon, and finds a dried crust of bread among the rags. He tries to take a bite, but it’s too hard. He drops it into some water, soaks it, then mashes it up, adding a couple of spoonfuls of sugar. Grandmother calls this kind of food tramp’s soup.

If Father doesn’t come back today, I’ll have to eat dandelion leaves, he thinks, staring more and more into the distance, where the roads to the north and the east extend.

He can’t do any work without his father. The rocks have been collected, but the cement bin is empty, and it’s too early to start sifting sand for the mixture. Simonas plays with the rabbit, but hunger forces him to spend more and more time walking aimlessly around the lot. Maybe his father has ended up in hospital? The bicycle broke down, and now he can’t bring back the food, so he’s trying to find some other transport? For so long? Mother left Father, and now Father has left him? Simonas stares at the rabbit in the field. No one is looking for him. No one misses him. Rabbit Rain has no family or intimates to whom he might matter.

4.

The father doesn’t appear the next day either. A truck sputters into the site. The manager jumps out of the cab, and asks where the father is. Simonas explains that he left, and was supposed to have returned by evening. Fine, the manager waves his hand, there’s cement for sale, we need to get some, jump on the back.

When they get to the intersection with the statue, the trunk doesn’t turn south, where Simonas thought the town should be, but to the north. They drive for quite a long time, and going hungry for a second day, he feels weak and sleepy. Finally, the truck drives up to an unfamiliar community, and quite soon stops at a set of large metal gates. The area is surrounded by a tall fence, and contains many buildings, probably warehouses, arranged in rows. The doors to one of the structures are open. Simonas jumps off the back of the truck, stretches, and moves his hands and legs. The manager looks at him, and smiles. The truck backs into the opening of the warehouse.
 
Inside, several large doors line the wide hallway. The ones the truck stops in front of are made up of two halves, and the tops are completely turned back.

“Get in,” the manager tells Simonas. “You’ll find a bucket. Use it to fill the truck.”

Simonas looks at the manager, as though wanting to ask something, but he wouldn’t know what.

“Get inside, fill the bucket with cement mix, and pour it into the truck,” repeats the manager.

“And how will I get back?” he finally asks.

“Back? I don’t understand,” says the manager, confused.

“If the truck is full of cement mix …” he says, but the manager cuts him off.

“Quick, get inside. We’ll figure it out later.”

And the manager walks further into the warehouse with the truck driver. Their silhouettes disappear against the stacked lumber, boxes, and packaged equipment.

Once he climbs in, Simonas feels like he has entered the Snow Queen’s palace: the entire space is brimming, right up to the ceiling, with white, even slightly bluish grey cement snow. He wades through it for a few steps, until it reaches his waist, and finds the bucket, which looks as though some weather-beaten Hollywood treasure-hunters in cowboy hats had left it there.

He grabs the bucket with both hands, and pulls it out of the cement. The white powder only looks light. It’s heavy. Heavier than flour. He goes over and pours the first bucket into the body of the truck. The whitish powder like ash spreads on to the floor.

He fills and carries, carries and pours, goes back and fills again, going on like this without stopping, but not rushing, for a dozen minutes or so, and then turns the bucket over and sits on it. It feels as though he is trying to empty a lake. Having caught his breath, Simonas continues the ritual: fills and carries, carries and pours, goes back and fills again, and carries again.

When the back of the truck is almost full, Simonas’ clothes, hair, mouth and nose are also full of cement dust. Perhaps that is what angels look like, he thinks. Or the souls of the dead. Petrified souls, angels flying around them, gently brushing the eternal dust. The angels’ hair isn’t full of cement dust, but heavenly pollen. Flowing starlight.

Simonas closes his eyes and sees the Blessed Virgin Mary sitting on the throne of darkness, ascending to Heaven.

Simonas shakes his head. He looks round. The back of the truck is almost full of cement powder. It looks like ashes. Human ashes. They are so solid, these ashes, because they are from bones. And now they will become buildings. Human ashes as binding material. Simonas feels dizzy, and slowly walks to the furthest end of the room to clean himself. He beats himself with his hands, his eyes closed so tight that he sees stars, and again the Blessed Virgin Mary on the throne of darkness. When he has shaken off the cement dust, he notices welding equipment, and next to it half a paper sack full of pieces of carbide. Without thinking, he takes several handfuls of the larger rocks, and stuffs them into his jacket pockets.

He travels back again in the back of the truck. As they drive past Mary, he thinks: if someone were to pour water on to him right now, he would turn into a statue, just like Mary.

The manager, sitting next to the driver, sticks his head out of the window of the cab, and calls him to come closer. Do you know, says the manager, why you shouldn’t collect the rocks lying near Mary? And before Simonas can reply, he whispers: they are not rocks, but people who heard her singing. And they drive off. It seems to Simonas that, through the humming of the engine, he can hear the manager’s ringing laugh, answered by the driver’s husky bass. But perhaps it’s only the groaning of the old vehicle.

 

 

Translated by Karla Gruodis

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