Those of a less charitable disposition might say that they organised today’s festival out of guilt, rather than true admiration or love, ‘they’ being the friends of Krisi Quelstither. It’s not that they didn’t get on, but that, at least face-to-face, Quelstither was a quiet woman, easy to forget. She wasn’t brash or funny or loud and those are usually the things you need to get noticed at the pub, the only place she was ever seen outside of her work as an acoustic engineer at the Underbridge Piano Maker’s Cooperative.
On every Tuesday night you’d find Quelstither at the Taxman’s Due, her local pub, to which she was never invited out, nor did anyone talk to her a lot, but she was always there, politely laughing along, and she always made good conversation, if you wanted it. Otherwise she was happy to drink and listen. She was very good at listening. Before she died, if you asked after her with anyone from the group of friends she sat with, they probably wouldn’t be able to tell you much about her. She was just always there, a welcome but unasked for presence. They’d disagree with each other about how she’d got to know them; everyone thought that she was someone else’s friend from school or work.
You’d think, with the regularity that they saw her, they’d have noticed when she was gone. Unfortunately this was not the case; they were only casual acquaintances after all. It was only when the undertaker sat down with them three weeks after she’d died that any of them put more than a few moments of thought into her absence. The undertaker told them what had happened, the illness and its end, and they sat speechless whilst she gave them the little gifts and trinkets that Quelstither left them, perfect little gifts, things they would have never thought of but loved, like she’d known them better than they knew themselves.
Dinlaw Groveman remembered a conversation he’d had with Quelstither a few weeks back, then, when the undertaker was talking to the group. She was reading out a statement from the deceased woman, (who had left a very specific set of instructions), and there was something about its wording that made her remember it. Perhaps it was the cadence of the speech, or some key word that he’d never heard elsewhere. ‘You’re welcome to come and visit for a coffee or tea, whenever you like,’ she’d said, and whilst Groveman had been entirely sincere when he’d agreed to do so, in the morning he completely forgot.
It was only when the undertaker said ‘half empty teacup’ that Groveman remembered the conversation, which resurfaced to the top of his mind, and then later, when he got to her front door, he somehow knew exactly where to look for the doorkey, which, it turned out, was buried in the plant pot by the door. ‘I looked back at the speech later, and there was the word ‘key’ and ‘plant’ over and over, so I guess that’s how I knew,’ said Groveman to the Buentoillitant Spektator in 1972. When he got in the door, there was a letter there, addressed to him, on the kitchen table. ‘Thanks for coming,’ it began, ‘I have some letters I need you to deliver.’ There were boxes of the things, in big bundles, all addressed to Quelstither, but tied together with string which carried the name and address of the original senders. ‘Deliver them in person,’ said the letter addressed to Groveman.
There were thirty seven recipients of the letter bundles in all, each with years of correspondence. He did as he was told, as she knew he would; Groveman had always been the most inquisitive of her friends; and each time he delivered one, he had to tell them what had happened. These were people who had spent years writing letters to Quelstither, but had never met her in person. They may have wanted to, even, but they sent their post to a box in Ranaclois Station that she collected from. These were people who loved her deeply, a best friend who had been there when others hadn’t, and with each of these conversations the shock with which Groveman reacted to her death turned to true grief.
Each of these strangers had received their first letter when they’d most needed it, slipped into their handbag or pocket on the train, or handed to them by a stranger who’d been asked nicely to courier it to them whilst she left. She’d watched them biting their nails, scratching their heads out of stress, or looking lonesome and melancholy. Edith Borgamm was one of the first. She’d been left by her husband and was riding the same train around all day, looking out at the view without seeing, and when she finally got up the letter was there, on the seat next to her. ‘To the lady who has been looking out the window all day,’ it was addressed. ‘She had kind words and good advice to give. I think more than anything I needed someone to tell me I was worth something,’ said Borgamm.
It was their idea, Groveman and Borgamm, to hold the festival today, the day she died, It’s very simple, they just do what she did, though perhaps with a little less success. Many of the pub and epistolary friends of Quelstither join in, and for the rest of the year they’re in regular contact, with each other and the new friends they made riding the trains, or people-watching in the parks and coffee houses, ready to pen a letter at a moment’s notice.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of Careful Diction
- Denner Blau’s Day
- The Cable of God Festival