Master of Library Science

You have been many things since you fell asleep at the the wheel: a collector of garbage, a teller of fortunes, a center of gravity. You have testified to god, fled into the darkness and been turned back. Today you are a bird, a tiny thing, aswing in a bamboo cage. They feed you seeds, whistle news to you, keep the door closed. You learn their hands, big as a buick, veins like cables of steel.

Until—

One feeds you, whistles you, and calls you forth. You are all beating heart and twisting eye in her hands; her hands are all joints, papery flesh over birdhollow bones. She holds you up to her eye, and you know her, know her smile, her wicked, prideful, maternal smile. “Now you have learned,” she says, voice as big as a forest, intimate as a hollow tree. “Do not dare less.”

She throws you to the sky and you take flight as the old woman, your captor, the crowd, and all the buildings turn into dry leaves and maple seeds helicoptering to the earth. You are yourself, hair tall as a haystack, fingers heavy with paint, with a garden ready to weed.

Horosho

You wake from vague and meaningless dreams to find that everyone in your city – yours, truly yours, now – has gone, either disappeared or left, it’s not clear. The army has the town surrounded and the power’s shut off everywhere you try. The soldiers are all very polite and not at all mad or hostile but they won’t let you out, either. “Sorry,” they say. “Nothing personal. Orders, y’know? No one ever goes in and no one ever comes out.”

But what happened, you want to know. You’re very insistent, but they just smile and shake their heads and turn you back into the empty streets after letting you rage yourself empty, a balloon flying along on the rush of deflating.

You figure you’re lucky it’s summer, on account of the weather’s sweet and balmy with jasmine, but after a month, maybe six weeks, you cotton to the fact that it’s always perfect, always easy; the meat doesn’t rot and the fruit doesn’t spoil. Fires won’t light – lucky you – and the cream never sours.

There’s always food, but the books are all blank, emptied somehow of ink. Libraries you break into are filled with row upon row of empty white pages, faces smiling up from the covers white, white and cheerful, empty of feeling.

William Fitzgerald Finds His Way

You are short and straight as a kitchen knife. You have been, at one time, keen and deadly, but these days you are comfortably dull, nicked with long use and experience.

So you mythologize yourself.

You paint a liar’s face in the mirror, hangdog honest as inveterate liars always are. You remember — it was a day like this, sunny and dry like they all are — when the scales washed away from your eyes and you found yourself standing on the weedy steps of your office, ankledeep in cigarette ends and fallen leaves, the key already in your hand and in the lock, with no clear memory of walking there or leaving the apartment.

You have always been home again.

The key still works. The stairs are just as you remember them, though perhaps just that much narrower. The late afternoon light is the color of weak beer pouring in through your windows. Even the picture of the angel over the safe is still just the same, the same ball of fire and eyes and wings against a windswept and overcast moor.

You sigh happily and settle into your chair, lungs full of the nearly-forgotten tang of charred coffee. There’s still a half-bottle of cheap Midwestern scotch in the bottom desk drawer. The weak-beer light reflects from chimneys, airducts, high-rise windows from downtown, the bright metal of the cars in the street. You spread your arms wide, in ownership. Your city. Yours.

Stretch Your Wings Toward The South

You notice, eventually, that you are being shadowed. It’s a subtle thing — you haven’t spotted the same person twice — but you slowly realize that there are always a set of eyes ready to meet yours when you look up from your paper. You inevitably look away first. That delicate balance has been lost and left you grasping after old habits.

You pull one up against a wall outside a bar one night, a blind Argentine, and push your face in lover-close. What do they want, you hiss, baring teeth. Lamed wufnik, they say. Nothing, nothing. Only to watch! Lamed wufnik.

Lamed what? Whatnik? You rattle their cage for answers and they’re delighted, breath just slightly sweet with bourbon, delighted as any hobbyist full-up with trivia. Lamed wufnik. The twelve people that justify the ways of man to God. Lot’s rainbow. Right? Right.

The hell you say, you say, and way down deep in your mind something unspools, some dim memory of literary detectives and kevlar vests, of saline bags and transubstantiation, combs grown to forests and an old woman become a roaring fire. Why you?

Pfft, they say, why not you? You do as well as anyone. Who are you to say ‘why?’ See how much you think you know! Lamed wufnik. There are no real answers.

North

You see only what you want to see.

This is not delusion on your part — or not anymore. There was a time you blinded yourself to the harsher truths of your situation, when you turned away from the cliff’s edge, shuddering at the pluck-pluck of that seductive gravity, but no more. Now you are the heart of this city, its soul, an unwilling sun moving cynosure and confident through heliotropic commuters, all perfect, all friendly, and exactly as interested in you as you prefer. A meticulous 13% of people in the subway, for example, make eye contact, and a further 4% say hello or nod. Enough to feel noticed, not enough to feel watched.

The ads you pass are always interesting, if not always for products you are (quite) sure you want. They refer to shows you only but fondly remember, play jingles that are almost but not quite songs you like — enough to make you hum the actual song contentedly for an hour or two, not enough to overwrite it entirely. They remind you of things you have always meant to do, but haven’t actually done yet.

Exactly 37% of your questions are answered; another 22% is left for you to figure out after just enough thought to be enjoyably challenging. You are well-dressed and tasteful, a solid, complacent burgher, at peace and at home everywhere you go. You remember a time when you opened your eyes too wide — a time when questions poured through you caustically, and every street was seductive in its newness. You remember those streets, those days, but you cannot find them; they have disappeared into the unsettled wound of yesterday.