Bewildering Stories

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City Life


by Jason Rizos

Part 1 appears in this issue.

There, a bucket of still wires, multicolored and frayed, lie still in a typical plastic painter’s bucket. The wires were strange, like living tendrils; they were motionless but curious, playfully feigning lifelessness. Coordinated, but scattered. The stool creaking beneath him, Vincent leaned toward them slowly. A man sitting next to him apologized and moved the bucket away from Vincent’s stare.

Though it was not yet noon, he was dirty with a black dust that only disappeared at the folds and creases of his overalls and before reaching the power company’s logo on the back. His wide, polite smile lifted a bushy mustache over discordantly bright teeth. He continued eating his lunch, feeling a bit uncomfortable as Vincent stared wide-eyed at the bucket at his feet. Vincent pulled the speakers from his ears. Not knowing how to break Vincent’s unsettling gaze, the man remarked about the weather.

“Seems like we should have some sun this weekend.” He stated, chewing tuna salad and sourdough. “My name is Don.” He tapped an oval patch on the front of his jumpsuit. The patch said ‘Don.’

This remark about he weather broke Vincent from his concern with the bucket of wires. He could not contain his disagreement. Though he knew he would later curse himself for interfering, he spoke to Don.

“No.” Vincent said nervously. “I calculate forty days, the clouds will break.”

“Weatherman said on Friday.” Don nodded politely, not quite confident either way.

“Weathermen say lots of things.” Vincent trailed off; it was strange for him to hear his own voice, this kind of banter was something awkward for him.

The tension broke with this subtle quip and Don laughed loudly, as if out of instinct, or perhaps not knowing what else to do. He looked at Vincent’s headphones, disappearing into a tiny recorder in the front pocket of his sweatshirt. Don knew them, the headphones, as a source of music and that the proper course of action would be to continue the dialogue on this subject.

Don leaned towards Vincent in so as not to disturb the other patrons. “The rain in this city, the clouds, I think may affect the sensibilities of the citizens. Take music for instance. Very morose in this city.”

Vincent did not care for music and he was not paying attention to Don. But he was nodding at a developing realization, surfacing from the murky depths of his psyche. He could not take his eyes off this bucket of wires. Don figured all this nodding was corroboration, so he proceeded to pontificate on the state of contemporary music.

“Yes,” he continued, drumming his fingers on the counter, and almost as if an incantation, he said: “There is a connection. Everything is connected.”

At the time, Vincent did not know what he meant. He considered the psychological process underlying Don’s choice of words. With his face askew, all his thoughts in a knot, Vincent continued stealing peeks at this bucket of wires.

“I apologize for this mess,” Don said, gathering up the bucket and paying his bill. He picked a few rouge wires up from the floor and stuffed them carefully into the bucket. They squirmed slightly in his grasp, like agitated earthworms seeking cool, rich dirt. “I’ve got wires coming out of my ears right now.”

Three days later, Vincent spotted Don walking down the same block whistling, with his bucket of wires. Vincent crept after him at a distance, trained lens after lens of his spectacles down onto his eyes. He watched intently as Don opened a large gray utility box and casually stuffed inside a handful of bare wires. And then another. And another. Without any logical order, Don fed the utility box until the bucket was empty. He then locked the box, climbed into his PW&E truck and slipped into the current of other cars and trucks.

It was then that Vincent first estimated the depth of the city’s infrastructure. These gray boxes were a part of a living structure, homeostatic and adept. Streetlights turned on at dusk, they faded when overheated and relighted when they cooled. The stoplights dictated traffic with an organic efficiency. These were innovations of technology he previously applied to civil engineering, the work of man. By a logical extension the city was a living entity, Gaia of concrete and steel. Built, ultimately, by the force of nature itself. The culmination of the centuries.

He understood that the scope of total order was impossible to regulate by a team of people, that the machinations of the city were the city’s own. That the people who called it their own were but the city’s subjects. There were the workers who maintained it, pruned it back and kept it from spilling too far into Puget Sound. Those that mended broken and cracked bridges and those that stood on street corners with guitars and softly lulled it to sleep each night.

After a particularly long and pensive night, the sudden vision of this new consciousness burst into Vincent’s mind like a surge of white light. Sprinting into the middle of the street outside his apartment building, Vincent described aloud his feelings toward the city. With the sun not yet creeping over the horizon, Vincent stretched his arms into the dark and told the softly sleeping city: You are an Orphist’s flair upon an otherwise cold and lifeless cubist world.

An expansive body of mycelium: Vincent hypothesized that the city had no central component, that it was a sum of the whole. Nevertheless, Vincent spoke from time to time to the city; in the quiet places where he was certain his voice would be heard. He told of the world outside Seattle because the city was uneducated about what lay beyond its boarders. He spoke of the history of the world, because the city was young and its intellect unrefined. It was Vincent’s duty to educate it.

He told the city of a unifying theory, of systems inherent to nature. He explained how the force of nature was primitive though hardy, simple though elegant, and that the city was a member of the same order, but alone atop the hierarchy, a seminal being of exquisite composition and order, unmatched throughout the course of history.

Vincent brought stacks of textbooks to the Republican Street stairway on Sundays and read aloud to the city, a most devoted and attentive listener.

When he was not reading to the city, he took daily trips to various skyscraper office buildings, for the reason of scientific observation and to collect architectural specimens. On these expeditions, Vincent found the city courting him at every opportunity.

As he traversed city blocks, the opposing traffic lights turned yellow and red; the crosswalk signal flashed a little white man, inviting Vincent to pass. When he approached an elevator, the carriage quickly descended, the doors parted, revealing confused office workers. On one occasion, a woman in a navy blue pantsuit asked him what floor he would like. Vincent answered the twenty-second, but before her finger reached the panel, the button illuminated, the door closed and the elevator shuttled Vincent immediately to his destination, ignoring all other requests.

Vincent was endlessly kind and devoted. Each week he drove his small car out to the country and brought back to the city a bouquet of lupine, bluebell and daisies. And this flattery did not go unnoticed by the city. The golden line coupler was an exceptional gift and Vincent was enamored by the gesture. The city had given a piece of itself to him.

One evening, on the steps of the Republican street stairway, Vincent spoke of the Earth at night, the photometric lights of other cities from Tacoma to Miami, from Luxembourg to Bangkok, illuminating the entire globe, a vast fractal of urban and natural forces. A jewel, unique among the stars.

But the city did not understand the stars. The sky had been cloudy for some time and the city, being so young, had never experienced the open night. The city grew distrustful of Vincent, though Vincent tried to convey his sincerity. The idea of a wide universe, millions of miles, a network of cosmic forces; all this was too fantastic for the young consciousness. The city’s very understanding of itself was one of Vincent’s enabling, and by divulging the exotic physics of the universe at large, Vincent had zealously exceeded reason. Vincent asked the city only for its patience, the weather would break in just seven more days.

Though their relationship suffered, Vincent tried to soothe the city, which was a prodigal student, intent on learning. As he walked the streets, he caressed the buildings, whispered softly of radio telemetry, the birth of the universe, their role in eternity, the promise of becoming more than their corporeal parts.

On the fortieth day, as Vincent slept, the sky did clear. He woke that morning certain of his prediction, but as he reached to open the kitchen blinds, there came a knock at the door.

Another package, delivered again by Don the Connector.

“Looks like we got something else for you.” He pushed a large envelope through Vincent’s slightly open door. “Just what is it we sent you last time?” he asked, magnanimously.

Vincent opened the door wider and lifted the coupler around his neck. Don looked for a long time at this, dumbfounded, which Vincent recognized as the glassy look people get in the presence of gold.

He leaned in close to Vincent, making certain nobody was watching him from either direction down the hallway. “Your prediction. The sky has cleared... Sounds crazy I would remember something like that, but it’s not every day you see no fortunetelling like that.” Vincent did not forget. He looked at Don expectantly. “Well...” Don said awkwardly. “You think...” he trailed off, a bit embarrassed. “You think you might be one of those people, you know, who have a way of seeing things?”

A way of seeing, yes. Vincent knew then that he was a vital part of this emerging consciousness. He looked at Don carefully, but comfortably.

“This is the way things will happen. We are all part of a larger plan.” He said as reassuringly as he knew how. Don only nodded slowly as Vincent softly closed the apartment door.

The package contained only a key, but with it, a printed invoice divulged the location of the door it opened.

That night, Vincent quietly descended the stairs in his apartment building to the first floor. He carefully pushed a small knife into the plaster wall. The knife severed a thin wire within and Vincent quickly climbed the stairs back up. Before he reached his fourth floor, the residents were pouring out of their apartments into the hallway like agitated ants, complaining their telephone service had been interrupted. Upstairs in his apartment Vincent pulled nearly three hundred feet of the wire up through the walls of his building. Standing naked of his human clothing, he wrapped his torso in this quantity of Category 11 phone cable. He was shielded, insulated, banded tightly in cable. A living conduit of copper and plenum.

Snugly fitted, Vincent placed the gold coupler around his neck and left his apartment, bound for the Space Needle. This late at night, the monorail was practically empty, save one solitary man who occasionally glanced at Vincent’s strange gray attire but did not utter a word of curiosity.

The sky above the Space Needle was clear. The key opened a dark steel door that led to a service hallway and elevator. The doors opened for Vincent as he approached. Jubilant, the elevator whisked Vincent to the top floor.

The night air was cool and pleasant, the wind calm. The railing was protected with horizontal cables, through which Vincent could see the city for everything it was; a glorious expanse of colored light, the traffic flowing vibrantly like an illuminated alimentary canal. Though unscheduled, the light atop the space needle, the Skybeam, was illuminated with its eighty-five million candlepower. Vincent could feel the warmth of powerful light as photons pushed into the clear sky and overwhelmed the puny stars above them, racing outward into the cosmos.

He looked out to the city and at once all the lights fell dark. A total blackout covered the expanse and the city had fallen as dark as the Puget Sound beyond it. As the sirens of countless police cars droned below him, a single light turned on, perhaps a streetlight, perhaps a home. Then another. And another. Vincent squeezed the line coupler tightly, his own piece of the city. He watched with awe as utility vehicles swarmed the city in search for an explanation, unaware that entire city blocks were restored in a pattern forming letters, each nearly a mile wide. A tribute, a gesture of affection, the lights spelled out V I N C E N T.

Moved by this gesture, Vincent reached into the air beside the swelling Skybeam. The city remained dark, all the power of the grid given solely to its own brilliance. Vincent climbed the side of the great ballast that supported the Skybeam, he felt the heat through the layers of plenum cable wound around his body. He squeezed closed his eyes and lifted himself upon the edge of the lens. The wind was strong in the open air above the terrace. He breathed deeply and stretched out his arms. Then he fell forward into a soft white infinity. His body at once sublimated; molecules became atoms, atoms became particles and Vincent lifted through the atmosphere in a ray of white light. Entwined with the soul of the city, together they raced beyond the solar system and forever into time and eternity.

Copyright © 2004 by Jason Rizos

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