I have sent this letter to all five provinces, thinking your old love for administrative buildings might lead you to visit one of our nation’s clean, efficient post offices. Even were you to show up, I do not know how you, a stranger with no documentation, would claim your mail. I have to hope some postal clerk will find this letter so compelling as to try to match it with each person who comes to his counter, until he finds you, its recipient, and can rid himself of the mystery.
If you get this and you are wondering, I have not sent any letters except this one. I am always thinking of writing but never actually writing. I imagine writing petty things that do not seem worth reading. How is your day? Et cetera. Have you been okay?
I have been okay. You have asked me to try to be. Admittedly some days that’s all that makes it happen. Obedience.
The land retreated from here just after you left. The damage in most places was minimal—not more than could be blamed on a heavy wind or a freak storm. Our house holds up fine. If I am honest, I spent a few days paranoid of walking through its middle or putting my full weight on the upper floorboards. I don’t pretend to know what you did, but after a little time and testing, I understand you have protected me, and I don’t need to be afraid.
Most days, knowing this helps, and I miss you less.
For lack of a better occupation I have done some work on the upstairs rooms, and for my efforts have come out with something worthy of being called a boarding house. I have registered with the city, and very soon I will open the rooms formally. I have a few areas in mind to advertise. Our homeless population in the capital climbs, as more places fall to the green.
Forgive this fault of mine, but I need to tell you something you may already know. The newspapers are full of noise. The land’s arrival near the harbor. Ports strangled by seaweed, shipments delayed. The southwestern farmlands overtaken by thorny wintercreeper. Strange new roads and lightposts in the backcountry. Every story full of heat and terror like a tabloid. You know I am inclined to take a measured accounting. But day by day I grow more susceptible to the panic. And I harbor a growing panic all my own—that you won’t come back to me. Or that you will and I won’t know you.
You told me, when you left, that you were her prisoner, Liyo. Yet you are not fleeing like a prisoner should flee. You are her advance guard, her standard bearer. She has not stopped her demolition of our continent, and you, with your mysterious gifts, seem to be carrying out her will wherever she can’t. The tempo of our destruction is the tempo with which you move.
Come back to me anyway, when this is all done.
No—let me end with a question so you’ll feel like you have to send a reply. When are you coming home?
I wanted to write you. Would you believe I remember the address from when I was a girl? It is easy to remember addresses when they are other people’s, and hard when they used to be your own.
I don’t know what my address is now, or I would tell you so we could write each other like we used to. I am at the intersection of a lot of roads. They don’t have names, because I built them new. They all go to my city, which also does not have a name, and which was not before now a city or a place anyone could get to, but is now, because of the roads.
I have felt guilty, like maybe it’s not good to do roads any more than there are, like that will make her mad. But she seems to let me do what I want. I am certain that someday the things I do will anger her, and that the fact I am probably her enemy will no longer escape her notice.
There is not always a lot of room, so I have been building complicated things—dicot, ring, and clover roads, natural geometries. But I want to build lines and lines and lines. I want roads that never end. There are of course roads not yet finished, or roads closed. There are dead ends, alleyways and cul-de-sacs. But where you live, and in the rest of the world, a road demands crossroads. I want a road that doesn’t end, that goes straight anywhere to anywhere, direct.
I have made myself a house. The house is a lot like yours was, mazes of rooms and impossibly large. It sits at the end of a dozen roads like the dot in the middle of a spirograph. It is visible from everywhere and impossible not to reach. But no one starts down a road intending to end up here. They have no reason to.
Do you ever feel like you have something to say, and then you go to say it, and there’s nothing there? I’m not sure there ever was. You probably don’t have this, because you are a writer. I always admired how you went ahead and said all you had to say. Even if you weren’t sure it was right, if it helped you get somewhere, you’d say it.
I am realizing it has been a very long time. So long you may not be at the house I’ve sent my letter to. So long that that house may be gone. Or you may be gone. People only live so long.
In my imagination, you have found this letter anyway, and you have got on the road, any road, and you are coming to meet me in the house I have built, which you can’t help but find, because it’s where all the roads end up.
I like the roads you’ve built and the city you have made. I like the careful bricks and squared foundation of your house. I like your spiraling stairways. I like your double entry doors, and the arched window I know is yours.
I like the grounds you keep and your fountains, statues, birdbaths. Your crisscross paths for walking. You don’t walk them. You might, with some help—I could give you a garden, flowers to look at. But you keep tidy grass, short like soldiers’ hair and greener than green, and it’s appealing too, what you’ve done. I like your swirling iron gates. I’ve sent ivy for them. Give it time; it will look nice. Lived-in.
I like how your roads lay flat over the ground, how they turn to ice when it’s cold and melt the air when it’s hot. I have sent some hardy trees to stand beside and beautify them, if tolerance of the inhospitable is beauty.
I am your mother, so, I want to like everything you like. If your roads get swallowed up in the forest, just short of your city, it is not because I don’t like them. If a tree falls and blocks someone’s entry, it is not because I willed it to fall. If you would just visit the groves I have planted around you. If you would indulge for a moment in the things that I like. The dark and wet of woods. The smell of tree fruit, of new ripe and old rotten. I like the wall you’ve built to keep the trees from spreading roots into your lawn, and I like the crows that sit on top of your wall waiting for a plum to fall, and I like the scarecrows you have set up to keep the crows from staying for too long.
You aren’t talking very much to me anymore, or to anyone. So.