He was dead. Yes, he was very much what people would consider dead, but he himself would have thought differently. If Rigen Struve had lived enough to visit the western valley’s cemetery seventy years after he hung himself, he would have undoubtedly curved his lips and squinted his eyes and claimed “Why, I have never been more alive!”
And he was alive. Alive and eternal as he always wanted to be and never thought he would. More alive than the sunflowers that leaned against the tomb and more eternal than the rusting coins that covered the stone surface under which he would have rested. Dirty plastic buckets filled with fragrant and colorful flowers were placed around the burial site, which stood apart from every gravestone, all of them seemingly forgotten.
How ironic it was that the only empty coffin heard more pleas and its altar dried more tears than most of the graveyard tenants put together. And still, Rig Struve’s luck did not stop there, he was omnipresent, infinite, and not confined to bones inside a box and buried under several feet of sterile dirt. His body had been destroyed, the tomb, the altar, did not truly belong to him. It had been erected years after his ashes were scattered somewhere down the coast of Elgin, where he was set free.
When his wife, now long dead and resting on a lonely corner of that very same cemetery, took the dust he had become and, dressed in black from head to toe, walked along the beach one ochre afternoon, she whispered “I hope you are happy now” with tears on her eyes, and then she threw his ashes to the roaring sea one handful after another. Once the box was empty, she went home and never spoke a word about it. Instead, she left the world believe that there was a body to cry over and that it rested under the heavy white stone the tomb was made of. Mrs. Struve gracefully embraced the lie, partly because the mere thought of death and past made her sick and partly because she frankly meant what she had said; she wanted him to be happy.
Rigen Struve was, or rather had been, a writer. And that terrible condition was his personal curse and the ultimate cause of his death. Mr. Struve, like most great artists, found it unbearable difficult to make art. It was an illness that nested on his mind and before he could even realize what was happening inside his head, every letter he did not write and every thought he could not put into words tied his one good shirt around his neck and kicked the chair under his feet. The official report read ‘suffocation’ but everybody knew it had been the art. He had been killed by the art.
Being a victim of the sickness of the writer, he was vaguely ever happy during life and only he would know if death was any better. However, once immortal, he had gotten everything he ever wished for. A book of poems was weaved out of words found on crumpled sheets of paper, left resentfully silent on a basket next to his abandoned typewriter. On the cover of the book, the name of Rigen Struve was written in golden letters and read by everyone he had known and many he had not. They all liked it. And Mrs. Struve, who kept his name, was soon surrounded by people who would pat her shoulder and mutter “I’m sorry about Rig, he was a great writer” and she would answer “Yes, he was”, although she never thought so before.
A short novel soon followed the book of poems; it was a story about war and big cities situated far beyond the bordering waters of Capaña. It was first discovered in the form of a stack of paper that Mrs. Struve found when she was cleaning one of the many drawers still filled with moth-eaten socks that her husband left behind. She had never heard that story, or anything like it, before. She was not aware of the manuscript’s existence until that night when she found it buried deep in cotton clothes that smelt like old soap and thoughts that made her cry.
The woman always had at least two good reasons for everything she did, especially for crying. It was her belief that tears must come out as unquestionably as air needs to be breathed in, except less often and for better reasons. So she cried because the book had been a secret and because it hurt her soul to know there could not be more. If only she had known before. If only her husband had shared his words and world, he might have still been in hers. But he had kept quiet and carried his heavy burden with no help and no support.
Of course, Mrs. Struve was wrong. The once hidden and resentful pages of her husband’s writing were now anything but silent. And they spilled the words they had been guarding on the minds of anyone willing to read them line by line. And a second wave of people knocked on the door of the deceased’s old house to talk to his widow and ask her if there could be more. She would answer, “Rig was a very talented writer but there is no more” and they would say “what a shame, it’s a shame that he had to kill himself. Why did he do it? He left no note?” Every question that grazed a wound on the woman’s weakening heart would be answered by a closing door, and in no time the public realized they could get just as many answers from the widow than they could from the tomb of Rigen Struve. And they went to see him instead.
On the tenth anniversary of his death, the grave of Mr. Struve was visited by more people than the number of friends he kept when he was alive. They came to the cemetery carrying flowers, which were left at the base of the tomb, dropping copper coins as for old folklore. Some of the people would stay quiet and stare at the ground while some others would breathe out fragments of his poems as if saying “I learnt this for you, I think you were good and I wish you didn’t have to die.”
The next morning, two things were found. The first thing was a rain-washed manuscript with no name written on it, the second one was a box of letters. The manuscript was typed in blue ink that had been almost completely blurred away by the water and its yellowish pages were rippled like sea waves. It rested over a pale slab of stone in the western valley’s cemetery, surrounded by the flowers left for Mr. Struve. Nobody knew where it had come from and nobody bothered to read it.
The box of letters was a different story. It was found hidden inside a cushion in Rigen Struve’s old studio. When Mrs. Struve decided the air in Glenayre was too unfit for her declining health and her address was too well known by Rigen’s readers, she made all arrangements needed to move further south, away from the growing industrialization and the curious people, closer to the coast and a place where no one knew her wrinkling face. By then she was getting old and had been for long lonely, so she naturally had nostalgia clinging to her skin, piercing to the bone and so it was that every piece of furniture had to go with her. In that process, the cardboard box was found, making a hollow sound under the orange fabric of an old armchair that no one had used in many years.
Inside the box there were pages after pages of reasons and apologies. Mrs. Struve had been wrong, there was more. Letters of Death was the name of the third book by Rigen Struve, and its newly printed pages and black cover made it to nearly every household on the island of Capaña. It violently pulled out tears from hundreds of pairs of eyes and made people finally understand. Every page was left just as rippled by the crying as that manuscript, which the wind had taken away from the writer’s tomb and scattered around its broken pages like ashes.
“You must understand, that I never felt like I could inspire. My mind must be broken for it drives me to crave the only thing it cannot give me.” The young man’s lips stopped reading as he raised his eyes from the little black book he held between his hands. “But he was wrong, you know?” Ian Tessio said solemnly. “Rigen Struve inspired me, and not just me. You should all go one day and take a look at his grave, know what I’m talking about. If it weren’t for him, I probably would’ve never published my book. Now, you are going to think I’m crazy but I feel like I must say it. I am sure he gave me luck”. He then smiled at a second book placed over the coffee table. It was blue and its cover looked like water and the pages were flat like ironed, this time it had Ian’s name printed on it with big white letters, and this time, it had been read. “I asked him to help me and he did,” Tessio continued. “He was a great writer, it is a shame he chose to die”.
And Rigen Struve was dead, so dead that he never got to see how alive he had become. And his empty grave was the resting place for more than just flowers and bronze coins. The tomb of graveless Rig was a home for the things he loved the most. A box with pages after pages of reasons and apologies was left over the white stone by Mrs. Struve one silver morning. They were letters of life written by her and they talked about him and about how she was sorry for not knowing but she would love him for as much life as she had left and even longer, and that she wished he could know that.
From every corner of the island came people just as sick with art as he had been, to ask him for favors and to share their words and worlds like he never had the courage to do. The books piled up like paper towers all around the grave. People came to leave their story and left with someone else’s, and no book was left unread. And so it was that Rigen Struve, like most great artists, was far more alive and eternal in death that he ever was in life. He was read and loved and admired, and he never knew how much.