Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2021  Vol. 20  No. 1
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translation from Danish by Marilyn Nelson

Putting a Letter in the Mailbox
from Vejen går gennem luften (The path leads through the air)
Denmark: Gladiator, 2017

It’s Monday morning, a week has passed since Bjorn was here, and when I stick my hand in between the two top buttons of my raincoat, I can feel the letter. It’s thin, with sharp corners. It sits under my blouse close to my heart, and every time I move, with every step I take down the narrow streets on the way to the mailbox, it jabs into me: that I am alone. That yesterday was Sunday and what a mild autumn sun, what a thousand-colored leaves could have floated through the air. But gray upon gray, it didn’t float, the last leaves were fallen, it blew and rained just like today.

As I closed the street door behind me a few minutes ago and walked out into the dark street, I caught a glimpse of the glow of a cigarette between the trees. The neighbor stood and smoked at the corner of his house under the eaves. He coughed. Tobacco cough, I thought. As if it’s trying to dig itself deeper into his chest. Good morning, I mumbled. Even if I had never spoken to him, and I didn’t hear if he answered. There’s no one else on the street yet. The streetlights flutter in the dark mirrors of puddles, the only place with lights on is the bakery. And under the sound of the water in the gutter I can hear my own sloshing steps.

I’ve been up since five-thirty. The room was cold, the dark stood outside of the window like a sack of coal, and there wasn’t a sound in the house, only the rain falling on the roof. Without eating I wrapped my quilt around me and sat at the desk. The black branches stood behind me, they stretched over to the knuckles in my hand, which trembled so much I could hardly hold the fountain pen to write Bjorn’s name. Four consonants, one single vowel, five brittle little letters that felt their way out of the pen nib’s daddy longlegs stilts onto the paper.

In the whole week that had passed, I had been in a bubble. Alone with my empty hands, alone with my rage and my stiff, distraught mouth which is under my smile. And outside of the bubble were the class hours and the teachers who every day sat at their desks and talked or stood at the board and wrote, as if we were all made out of words. Outside of the bubble were free time and all the other students in my classes, who chatted and joked and laughed. Outside of the bubble were the Tuesday evening choir, the extra-credit gymnastics on Wednesday, the lecture association on Friday and the breakfasts with Adda and Lotte, where we meet every other morning for extra mental arithmetic practice before class. And outside of the bubble, farthest away, was Bjorn. He had written that he was completely busy with preparations for his trip, and that he had bought theater tickets for when I could come, and that it was raining in Copenhagen.

Theater tickets?

He might as well throw them in the trash can, and now that I stand here under the streetlight in front of the post office and have fished the letter out, the rain has stopped. I look at the name and address on the white envelope, I look right through the envelope, I look right in at the three small sentences, which have been inside me and have become more and more clear to me since last Sunday, when I stood a long time looking at the bus’s back lights. Three small splintering sentences, which I should have been able to say, and which have come out now:

I know I promised to wait.

But I’m sorry I made that promise.

Don’t write to me.

And the rest of the story is that I let go of the letter and hear a little thump. The irretrievable sound of the bottom of the mailbox rumbles in my ears like a thunderbolt. And then I turn around and run, it’s almost light, my rubber boots blow ahead of me through the puddles.  

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