Issue 114, Spring 1990
Cyparis the Lilliputian came at noon out of the dust clouds of the coastal road, out of the year’s first cold dust. As in every year before, Cyparis drove along the shore, two duns harnessed to his covered wagon, and with his whip he traced menacing, mad figures in the air, screaming at the people of Tomi the names of heroes and beautiful women. This was how, still from afar, the dwarf announced pleasure, pain, and grief, and all the passions of the films whose light he would beam on the peeling whitewashed walls of the slaughterhouse in the darkness of the days ahead. Cyparis the projectionist was coming. But it was spring. In the brandy cellar or in the hot glow of a forge, in Fama’s grocery or in the twilight of a storehouse — there, everywhere in Tomi, people stopped what they were doing, stepped outside or opened the window, and looked in bewilderment at the dust drifting slowly toward them. The projectionist. For the first time, Cyparis was coming in spring and not in August.
This time too, as every year before, a stag— tired, emaciated, and bound to the wagon with a long rope — trotted behind the team. In all the villages along the coast, the Lilliputian showed this stag as the Royal Beast of his homeland, which, as he told it, lay somewhere in the shadow of the Caucasus. He would make the animal dance on its hind legs to the tune of jingling marches. After the stunt, he often pulled the stag’s massive head down to him, whispering in its ear in a strange, tender language. And every year he sold the molted antlers to the highest bidder in the villages, to some trophy collector or other, for whom the cast-off rack serves as emblem and skeleton of a frustrated passion for the hunt —for there were no stags in the impassable, thorny woods of this stretch of coast.
In the square outside Fama’s shop, the old and the idle —as well as several of the ashen-faced people from the beach procession and sooty, bashful children —gathered around the projectionist’s team. Battus, Fama’s son, sniffed the horses’ steaming flanks and with the flat of his hand brushed the foam from their nostrils. Why so early, the people in the crowd remarked, asked, while Cyparis unharnessed the duns. Why not at his regular time of year? And the saddle blanket there, the beautiful pictures on the canvas and the brass of the bridles, all so different and new? All so beautiful.
Cyparis led the horses to a stone-rimmed pond from which coots flew up, threw the stag some chestnuts and a handful of dried rosebuds, and, as always, went about his chores chatting quietly in a tone of voice alien to the town of iron. Why should a man such as he, Cyparis, submit to the dictates of the season and wait till summer to make his appearance? On the contrary, it was summer that was waiting for him. Wherever Cyparis appeared, it was always August. And he laughed. The bridle? He had got that in exchange for three shows at the Byzantium Fair—a gem. And it was there, too, that a scenery painter had decorated his wagon’s canvas with the Death of Actaeon — a Greek hunter, an idiot, who had met his idiotic end in the fangs of his own bloodhounds. This deep red here, the splash across the draped canvas, that sheen —all hunter’s blood. And he laughed.
This was typical of the Lilliputian —the way most of the inhabitants of Tomi knew him. Everything he said was a story, whether the topic was his comings and goings or the delicate mechanism of his projector shimmering dull black in the tullelined crate where he kept it. His machine —Cyparis could hitch human destinies to it and transpose them whirring into the bustling world, into life. And so each year, under the dwarf’s deft hands, there appeared on Tereus’ wall a world that, to the people of the town of iron, seemed so distant from their own, so unattainable and magical, that for weeks after Cyparis had disappeared into the vastness of time, their only stories were versions and recountings of the films whose light had now gone out for another year.