The Last Things 

The exile returned to his old town, but no friends or relatives remained and most of the shops were closed. The shops that had survived were largely confectioners, and he had no desire for cakes or candy. It was almost impossible to buy anything practical with his silver to start a new life. At long last he found a shabby clothing store and a traditional blade shop. He picked out a black field jacket and a dagger with a curved, charcoal-gray hilt of carved wood. With his coat and blade, he left the rusted train stations, the warm mist, and the lightbulbs burning in the cake shops, heading up the coast into gray lands of sad acacias and somber larches. One evening, he came upon a way station nestled among the boulders, lit only by a headlamp that had once been mounted on a steam engine. A pilgrim had made a wood fire in the cast iron stove. They warmed their hands and drank black tea. A great forgetfulness falls upon the earth, said the pilgrim. What brings you north? I want to find the things I need to live, said the exile. At first, I thought I could live as long as I found my old town, but that is not the case. What should I have to really live? The pilgrim stared into the porthole-shaped opening of the stove. To live, he said quietly, you need a mountain of dragon horns, a tiger skin, the sweet dew of the western paradise, some giraffes or hippogriffs, cabbages, creosote pellets, soap stone worry beads, willow charcoal, rolling tobacco, pocket sized books of philosophy or poetry printed on fairly good paper, a hurricane lantern, an abacus, straw, rice paper, brush and inkstone, hemp oil, dried squid cut into thin strings, grain, swordfish, dried herring, canned mackerel, an old shotgun, bandages, and iodine. Oh, and don’t forget a jar of black tea and a jar filled with a fistful of sand from your old town. The exile sighed. I have only my coat and a small blade. The pilgrim poked the fire and they listened to the waves. One cannot really eat larch trees, said the pilgrim. One cannot eat steel or cotton, either. In the old days, there were trains. And the engineers and conductors would know what to do. Midnight came, and the exile went out into the darkness, walking along the abandoned railway that skirted the forgotten sea, dreaming of swordfish and giraffes, and hoping to befriend a roadside larch or acacia.  

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