Milana Gekht

School: School 157, St Petersburg

The Weary Rustle of Old Letters, Distant Words…


A Letter is a barrier,
a reprieve, a charm against
the world, an almost infallible
method of acting at distance.
Iris Murdoch, The Black Prince

I’m walking down the park lane. Bright leaves are floating in the wind. All trees around are nodding as if they agree that they are sending their colourful leaves as letters to someone who needs them.

Letters. What do they mean to you? What memories appear when you read them? I think everyone will find his own answers to these questions. For some, writing is something indescribably sensual, warm, that gives strength to believe and to dream. For others – a few short lines written on the computer and sent by email. For the third – just missing rarity and history.

Two girls in red coats are picking up the leaves, looking precisely at the notes of autumn written on the carved pages of scarlet parchment.

With some time, for me, the letters ceased to be just yellowed pages, covered with graceful handwriting, they became a kind of a window into unknown people’s lives, which reveals their characters and souls. Lines of letters and squiggles of words turn into memories and events of passed years, and yellowed paper becomes a conductor carrying the person into the past.

The girls will dry the leaves they have gathered and keep the autumn message between the pages of thick books. Forever. Like the letters from dearest friends which remind us of our distant childhood.

Reading the letters of different people, famous or not, is a real-life kaleidoscope, a kind of an archive. You might disagree and say that the archive is just a place where unnecessary forgotten documents are stored forever. But for me it is an entire world, imaginary and still unexplored. I imagine a tiny room, where, looking up, we will not be able to see the ceiling. All the space around is filled with racks, creating a maze, and on each shelf there is a casket. Each of them is unique and beautiful in its own way. Some are carved, others are decorated with special stones, the next ones are just ordinary wooden boxes, but they cannot be judged by the way they look – all the most important things are inside. Opening one of the boxes, we could see a little girl, sitting under a fluffy, beautifully decorated Christmas tree and scribbling something on her lap. Perhaps she is writing a letter to Santa Claus. Another casket keeps a secret family saga, and third one tells us about a magical love story. As you have understood, each casket is a letter which keeps one or another fragment of someone’s life.

One day the girls’ children will take a heavy old book from the shelf and open it on the right page containing a vivid letter telling a true story from their mother’s childhood…
Each casket Is a separate world. Some of them are full of sadness, despair, some are filled with a kind of childlike innocence, laughter, joy and the warmest feelings. There is also the third kind of letter. People spill out all their pain into them. It is incredibly hard to read them as such letters can change people completely: their attitude to the world, look and even speech.

Crooked brown leaves are lying on the paths of the park, trampled and rejected, like unwelcome letters, which everyone wants to forget…

Once, walking through tis endless maze of human daydreams and secrets, I came across an inconspicuous small matte black casket. It attracted y attention and I immediately decided to open it… and so, in a second, I found myself in a small, dimly lit room. There was a man sitting at the oak table and writing a letter by the light of only one candle. It was Charlie Chaplin. It always happens so when you ‘get’ into the casket that you do not need to read – all the feelings and thoughts of a man sound like your own ones and there was the entire cocktail of emotions in my head.  The letter was dedicated to his daughter – Geraldine – trying herself on the Parisian stage. I felt his immense father’s love, his pain from parting and from the fact that he had to tell all of these things, to admit that the father was not the strongest person in the world, but at the same time every word of elderly Charlie was full of pride of his ‘little’ girl. There also was hope, so strong that it could probably cover all the other feelings, except of love, of course. It was not just hope, but something more than that, it was something that made my heart contract. Perhaps it was faith, the faith that his girl, his Geraldine, who would be happy, would overjoy people around her and would be just a good person with a big soul and heart. But Charlie wrote the last word in his sloppy handwriting and fog swirled around me, thereby expelling me from the letter.

For a long time I could not come back to my quiet nook, each time returning to the letter of ‘the old fool Charlie’. And the phrases from that casket kept on repeating in my head, especially the last one: ‘I was not an angel, but always wanted to be a man. Try too.’

And I got scared that there would never be that big and pure heart, that no one else would express his soul in the lines of letters, that letters would escape and without them my magical archive would get begrimed with dust and decay, that shelves would not be filled to the end.

The man is raking the leaves. Does anyone need them? No, he’s just going to burn off the heap…

After all, if we go back 100 or 200 years, we will understand that talking to people on the other side of the world, instant sending and receiving letters, flying and having access to all the books of the world was a miracle then. People did not have such opportunities, so they sent letters full of feelings, trying to express all their emotions for many days ahead while the letter was going to the addressee. Those days books and letters were the only source for the imagination, hopes and beliefs that gave people strength to live, survive sorrows and enjoy happy days.

each letter was unique, incomparable, it was part of the sol and life. In those days people used to share real emotions in their letters, and it is sad that nowadays we mostly tend to share emoticons in chatrooms!

Swift autumn wind is sending golden, brown and scarlet leave-letters to all the passers-by. Receive such messages too! read them, and open a new secret casket hidden deep in your soul.

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