corner image   The Cafe Irreal: International Imagination 


Issue Twenty-Six

The Boatman's Home by Shome Dasgupta
Selections from
Fabulosae Aves (Fabulous Birds)
by Flavia Lobo
Two Compositions (from Empty Streets) by Michal Ajvaz
The Pavilion and the Lime Tree by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud
"I" Get Caught With
Marie-Yves's Pants Down
by Derek White
Wind by Ralph Wahlstrom
Thief of the Moon by Srinjay Chakravarti


 

Wind

by Ralph Wahlstrom


Where he lives now, the wind blows in endless determination. In winter it cuts through the streets with bitter cold and carries layers of angular white snow and ice, a howling kristel nacht that does not let up until late March when the rain comes in horizontal sheets, lying on atmospheric platforms of violently shifting air. In the summers, the wind blows in hot and dry until in September the rains come again on a river of cold, bringing the angry promise of winter. This is not the wind you know, a wind that takes you by surprise, gusting in to shake your street signs and play with discarded newspaper and cardboard boxes. That is a frightening, sometimes exciting wind. No, the wind in this town is ever present, relentless, terrible in its predictability.

He was not from this town. He had drifted in from other places where the wind did not hold sway, where it would come and go, sometimes with fury, sometimes with gentle sweetness, sometimes with barely a whisper. Now he read about the wind in other places, a hurricane on the coast, a series of tornadoes in the middle lands, and he tried to remember what it was like to anticipate the coming of the wind, or to be taken by surprise by the destruction inherent in its power. Mostly he wondered what it felt like when the wind stopped, when spent, it gave in to the inevitable laws of momentum and simply ceased. Now the idea felt as foreign to him as the idea of color to a man born without sight. The wind had driven those memories from his mind. In this town the wind did not stop. It pushed interminably into the streets of the town, whistling in crevices, humming over the gaping mouths of open windows and empty steel barrels, and shrieking through the open air belfry of the cathedral.

Some years before, a team of researchers came to town from a great university. They said they wanted to study the wind as it was unlike any wind anywhere else in the world. They said it was a unique phenomenon. For weeks they measured velocity, temperature, and the levels of particulates, oxygen, hydrogen and other gases in the wind. They said they might be able to learn why the wind was different here, to understand the science behind the anomaly. He watched them work, their hair blown back hard against their scalps, and their pads of lined yellow paper flapping in the steady current of air. He knew that if they stayed long enough, the hems of their coats would be as tattered as old prayer flags, but he knew they would not stay. They snapped photographs, presumably of the wind, and pored over readings on important looking instruments. They did this for a week. Then, like plastic shopping bags tossed from a car window, they were picked up by the wind and carried away. Another researcher, a noted professor, came to the town to do what he called an ethnographic study of the people and their relationship to the extreme environment and meteorological stressors. He wanted to study how they tolerated the wind. He needn't have spent even a moment worrying over their relationship to the wind. The answer was obvious: they didn't think about it. It was simply there, simply the wind, and that was good enough. The researcher left after two days. "Nothing there," he told a colleague. "Nothing but a lot of wind."

One day, weary of the wind, he decided to stop it. "What an absurd idea!" people told him. "You can't stop the wind any more than you can stop the tides or the sun."

"Maybe you're right," he said, "but the wind is different here, different than any other place. If I can find out why our wind is unlike other winds, I might be able to stop it."

Towns-people laughed. "Listen," they said. You can hear in the wind, the power, the voice of God. You can't stop the voice of God."

"Maybe not," he said, but I have lived in places where the wind does not behave with such inevitability, where it blows only occasionally or changes from day to day."

The next morning, he began to walk into the face of the wind. He would find its source. He walked for three days, being careful to push directly into the power of the wind. Each day he found it more and more difficult to walk, until he could move only with great effort. He had to will each foot forward and to guard against being blown to the ground. On the third day he fell to his knees and crawled into the great current. His skin shuddered, and his eyes burned . On the third night the wind forced him flat, driving his body into the dry earth, yet he moved on. Now he could see nothing, and the wind had stripped layers of skin from his hands and face. He had the sense that if he were to step to one side or the other, he would leave the stream, but he could not do that. In the night he came to a small opening in the bones of the mountains. He had found the source of the wind. Now, with what seemed the last of his strength, he forced his broken body into the gap, the womb of the wind, and the world disappeared.

When he awoke, his eyes had gone dark, and pain seared his skin. But he was alive, and the wind had stopped. He had lost much, yet he knew he had gained more. For days he crawled, feeling his way along the wind's path, the deep lines cut into the earth that would take him home. When at last he came to the outskirts of the town, an old woman greeted him. "So you've come back."

"Yes, yes, I've returned," he said, filled with the wonder of his accomplishment. "How is the town?" he asked.

"Still." she said. "Nothing moves now."

"Yes, yes," he said. "I have stopped the wind. Isn't it wonderful?"

"Nothing moves," she repeated. "Nothing."

"What are you saying, Old Woman? What do you mean?"

"They've all gone. Everyone has gone."

He collapsed, his face raw against the quiet ground. "Gone? Where?"

The old woman laughed — a dry, airless sound. "Oh you fool," she said. "They've gone to find the wind."



Ralph Wahlstrom has published a number of short stories over the years, most recently in Denver Syntax Magazine. He also published a book entitled The Tao of Writing in 2006, and he continues to write short fiction, nonfiction and music in his spare time. He is the Chair of English at Buffalo State College.


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