From “The Eugeniad”, Part V

The metropolis rises from a solitary monadnock of schist decapitated horizontally.  Encircling the slopes of this truncated cone of bedrock the old faubourgs, the medinas and slums, each in its allotted zone, linked in rough spiral up to the deep gutter gouged around the plateau’s edge.  Atop the mesa the piazza, laid of gleaming marble, accessible by bridges from each quarter.  At its center, the towers of the city rise in ascending tiers, vertical faces sheared at interlocking angles, to make a ziggurat.  Pier on pier, the fascias of titanic crystals culminate in the brilliant white obelisk surmounted by the golden crescent between whose points the solar eye is floating.  The sky explodes endlessly, bleaching the city to adamantine whites and utter blacks.  Sweltering, murderous stillness, the only sound a high-pitched, hair-thin filament, sonic stinger piercing the ear.  Antennae bristle on the rooftops.

At the outermost gates to the city, the dog-boy is loitering.  A sweet familiar face framed in black hair, a secret once revealed but long forgotten.  His chest bare, smooth as polished wood, his arms like serpents with chimerical heads.  Wearing nothing below, either.  He squats against the stone wall in the swelter, offering himself, his indispensable services.  Through the gateway — those iron monkeys —  the city exhales a slow sirocco, a dry stinking heat laced with the smell of steel and smoke, as if an orifice had opened, releasing a visceral pollution.  Or maybe it is only the body of the dog-boy, a source of carnal vapors and invisible flames.

“You want a guide, boss?  A smoke?  A room?  A woman?”

“Was supposed to meet someone.”

“But she never show up.”

“Should have worn a flower, identification.”

“So.  Looking for your party?  Got plenty nice buttons.  Make her ass turn red and hot, all pink and tender in the crack.  Make you pop your ring, very copromantic.”  His eyes sunken, luminous around obsidian pupils.  Haunted, ominous eyes, twin eclipses, their inky motes darting over the white surface like water flies, following the sun.  His glance casting a world shadow.  “Like a jungle in there, boss.  You should have come with a group.  I take care of you, I show you the way.  I know all the hang-outs, the go-downs where they have whatever you looking for.  Guarantee, I take you places you dream about where you maybe recognize the girl in the floor show, and she dance for you maybe, just the way you dream about.  I know all about you, boss, you see?”

His dusky flanks sugared with street dust.

“Haven’t got any money.”

“How about shoes?”

“Gave them away, I’m afraid.”

“Jacket?”

“Left it behind somewhere.”

“That’s a nice shirt.”

“A place to hang my tie.”

“I take that, too.  You better do it, boss.  This place a jungle, I tell you.  You go in there, you never come out.  You’re like a blind man.  You need a dog, boss, and I’ll be your man.  Keep away the junkies.  Very bad guys, jump you from the alleys, suck you out like an egg.  You got the inside dope.  When these guys done with you, all that’s left is an empty shell and a hunger.  Then you never get out again, you wait in the alleys for a passing fate.  Happen all the time.  How I look?  Hey, boss, I put this tie on, you hold the end like a leash.  What a kick!  I lead you through this labyrinth, OK?”

He ties the tails of the shirt around the drumhead of his belly.  Posing like a pin-up queen, wagging his hard little tail, tossing out a few bumps and grinds.

“I carry you over he river, boss.  You don’t think so?  I got a strong back.”

Overhead, a delta fly-over arches above the gates, speeding its sleek parapet and roadway like an arrow towards the heart of the metropolis.

“That’s how the soldiers come in their chariots of fear.  You better come, boss.  It’s no good to hang around here.  They got guns, pick you off like a can of beer.”

A diffident rumble, a million fates displaced and scratching disconsolately for some history to be let into.  The dog-boy glares up at the underside of the fly-over, baring his teeth.

“They think they’re going to pass through, camp out in the streets and wait for money from home,” he says.  “Then they find out this is the destination they’ve been headed for.  What do you think?  A little gratitude for taking them in?  You make me laugh, boss!  But you tell me.  Where would they be?  You think anyone remembers my grandfathers and great-grandfathers?  Give me a break, José!  Dust of the earth, my ancestors, no stars, no personalities, no movies or museums.  And what about me?  Might as well be a monkey or a goat.  I tell you, boss, in the garden they treated me right, plenty of rice and beans and mighty good bread.  I had respect there, I spoke the language, and what ever you liked, you could bugger.  Or whatever.  All day long I was coming and eating and playing around.  Girls with chamois skin used to fawn over me and show me their good times, and all the boys were nuts.  Stick with me, boss.  I tell you stories make your poker shine.  Hey, Mustafa!”  He calls to the gatekeeper dozing on his balcony.  “I got a passport here.  Open up.”

Little man with a white beard leaning over the baluster.

“Need to see a summons.”

“Had it in my jacket, I think.”

“Doesn’t do us much good at the moment, does it?”

“Had a name, a number, something about an appointment.”

“Your choice, son.  Your fate.  These instructions are for your own good.  But you’re the fellow never tipped the captain.  Oughtn’t to be where you don’t belong, son, out of your league, in the big time, over your head.  It’s a deep city in there, my boy, and you can get lost as easy as come out the other end.  Your parts’ll be distributed, your memory divided and there’ll be nothing left by the time they’re done but dog food and monkey meat.  You print?  If you wanted to keep your name in circulation, you should never have left the vernacular.”

“Rode the sluice as long as possible.”

“Oh, but the devil’s in here, my lad.  All the inverted matter belched up out of the river’s end.  It’s a dead sea.  You’ll have to leave on foot, if at all.”

“Lost my shoes somewhere.”

“To the dogs, I suspect.  In another world, I’d say it’d be a penance.  In your case, just a mistake, an error of judgement.  Still, if you say you’re expected, I suppose it’s up to you.  The laws are optional, you know, it’s just that everyone chooses them.  True freedom is obedience, they say.  We’re all imprisoned in ourselves, son, and for each of us there’s only one way of escape.”

“Mustafa,” says the dog-boy, “you think you are one of the gods already?”

“Is that what you are looking for, son?  One of the gods?”

“A misplaced future, I think.  A forgotten face that becomes familiar once it is seen again.”

“Well, well, what a persistence of faith!  To say ‘again’ instead of ‘still’ or ‘once.’  As if all time is furled in every instant part.  It’s what another era called ‘the plot.’  You never know in what face death is hiding, waiting for its cue.  And when it lifts the veil at last, you sigh: ‘Ah!  It was you!'”

“You see, boss?  What you got to lose?  Open up, Mustafa.”

“Every step backwards is a new direction, and the short cut never takes you home.  These streets go round and round and up and up but never meet or rise, and why?  This is a place of dogs and monkeys, not a god in sight.  Once, they were in the world but now are cast apart.  Who got them here?  Not the gods.  Daydreams.  False memories that come true, and you’re free to choose one of your own or make your way about the streets alone.  It’s up to you.”

copyright 2009 R.D. Eno

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