by Kallirroe Agelopoulou
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
The boy’s eyes were darting from one side of the room to the other. Like a caged bird, Kane thought. Swift and painless.
“Listen... There’s no easy way to say this, but your family... They can’t take care of you anymore.”
The kid didn’t seem to understand. “My uncle should come get me, then.”
Kane kept playing with the pen in his hand, rotating it faster and faster. “There’s no uncle either.”
The kid’s lips started trembling. “My cousins?”
The pen snapped, Kane had had enough. With a quick move, he was out the door. Behind the one-way mirror of the operations room, he slumped on an empty chair next to his teammate.
“Are you being dragged into their logic?”
There was no answer.
Paul checked him up and down carefully. “Well, if you are, stop. It’s a dead end.” He made a hazy gesture toward the one-way glass that separated them from the squatters. “They’ve been living a lie. Really, we’re doing them a favor.” He turned to face Kane again. “Trust me, it’s better this way. Knowing.”
“I realize that.” Kane’s face remained locked on the door. There was nowhere to go but back inside; the interviews had to go on. The weary faces of thirty or more squatters waited to be told what they’d been arrested for. They were waiting for the truth.
“I admit, it is enticing,” Paul continued. “The intricate stories, the endless tales drawing you in, making you feel you belong. They’re just a bunch of fragmented, fantastical images. ‘Experiences’ formed in the absence of an accurate representation of their environment.”
The supervisor could be trying to trick him into admitting he still had an attachment; Kane knew that. So he agreed, seriously. “It’s just difficult to break them in. Father, mother, uncles and aunts... That kid’s so lost, I have no idea where to begin to get him back. But I will.”
Paul finally cracked a real smile. “That’s the spirit. But leave the kid for now. You should talk to her first,” the supervisor pointed to an old woman, seemingly the oldest of the bunch. “Most of this mess is their fault anyway.” He kept looking at her, his eyes drawn somewhere far beyond her plain appearance, the white of her hair, or her half-blind eyes. “It’s always the women that are responsible.”
Kane accepted the challenge, promised himself that this time would be different. After the old woman, Claire, had been summoned, Kane sat confidently in his chair across from her. He picked up his papers. He remained seemingly lost in thought for a good while.
She broke the silence first. “What’s the crime I’m accused of?” Her voice wasn’t as soft as the rest of her exterior.
“Why would you assume there is one?”
She faced him calmly. “It’s either that, or you somehow think I’ve witnessed a crime. That we all have witnessed a crime. Why else would we all need to be here?”
“There is no crime. But there is a misunderstanding.” Kane made an effort to look as serious as possible. And then he got straight to the point. “The land you live on, the houses, the farms... They’re not actually yours.”
For a split second, the woman’s calm exterior melted. “How come?”
He started pen-toying again. “You’ve been deluded, Claire, all of you. For years and years you’ve lived inside the jurisdiction of the Commons. There is no private property here. There hasn’t been for a long time.”
She recuperated quickly. Her eyes blinked once, and that was all the discomfort she chose to show him. “Since when?”
“Since the Merger. The land tribute that your ancestors deliberately withheld. You’re the oldest one in your community. I bet you have at least an idea of what it is I’m talking about. Let me fill you in on the latest developments.”
She remained silent, her lips trembling as he continued.
“For many years, there were only four cities that mattered, only four.” The pen felt much lighter in his hand now; it went round and round. “Four cities that were the most important. After their merger, there was only one city in the world that mattered: our City, under the sun.”
He looked at her seriously. “There is no place for darkness here, no place for uncertainty. Each and every one has a job, a task. And this is all we need. The cleanliness of our personal space, an easy way to work, the validation of a heavy wallet, a clean bill of health.”
They both sat, staring at each other, as he delivered the final blow. “You left before it was over, Claire, but we still won the war. Hiding in your rabbit holes won’t make any difference. The world has moved on, and so will all of you.”
There was a moment of silence. “When I was eight,” Claire began, “I remember a strange light.” She kept looking somewhere behind Kane’s head, beyond the walls and the concrete. “It was floating outside my window. Bright enough to wake me up. It kept shimmying till morning, and I never moved an inch from my bed.
“Maybe it had come through that hole by the river, where old Rhonda had seen the faeries dancing. Sure, she liked her gin, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t telling the truth. My grandfather had always taught me to listen to people. ‘The truth’, he used to say, ‘lies somewhere between their lies’.
“He warmed himself up with scotch after every long day, and we sat together in front of logs that creaked and crackled in an endless honeycomb pattern.” Claire’s voice got brighter as she turned to look at him again. “All these things, I choose to remember. If I don’t, then who am I?”
Claire’s vivid images half-burrowed themselves into Kane’s mind, but with a determined shake of his head, he managed to escape their force. “By all means, an impressive account. Judging by your way with words, it won’t take long for you to find a job.”
He kept his face locked on the piece of paper in front of him as he offered her some final, comforting words. “It’s a different world outside, Claire, but you can still be a part of it.”
She took only a moment to ponder on that before she turned to look at him again. “Perhaps. I have to wonder though...” Her eyes kept sizing him, up and down. “No one man can hold the world.”
Kane had no idea what she meant by that, but he didn’t have to. She was soon escorted out the door, to start her life all over again.
* * *
The music had long stopped playing; the batteries were barely alive. Kane would pick up a book to read, or a leaflet, a manual, but they all had stopped making sense a long time ago. There was only the sound of the call to keep him company: a soft, incessant murmur; a million ants communicating, sharing a million secrets. A firm departure from the marching beats of the past he favored.
Kane was sure, it was the bap-bap, the sound of endless, German precision that had helped him survive, that kept his world turning when the moon stopped talking, when everyone else had followed the otherwordly command and had gone away. “It’s Hell calling for us,” they would say. It was the marches that’d kept him focused and made him stay back long enough to realize... the true nature of the sound.
It was as if somebody had had a vague idea of what eternal damnation should sound like and had tried to emulate it through the cracks. The others had gone for it. “The end of the world,” they said. But Kane knew.
And now, as the murmur got louder and louder, transforming the whole universe. He reaffirmed that knowledge: What existed behind the threads of the world was not Hell. Those stories were long dead and buried. Whatever lived there, calling him through, had no idea what it was.
Paul caught up with him in the lobby. “It’s finally clear.” He almost whistled the words. “A place for everybody and everybody in their place. We’ll have to brief the board first thing tomorrow and see what they have planned for the land.”
“I’ll have the report ready.”
Paul waved his pen at him. “Don’t forget to talk numbers; you know how much they love them. I heard Amisarm’s CEO is interested in the area — something about building a vacation condo for their high-profile employees. It wouldn’t hurt to get some healthy competition going.”
“I can arrange that.” A moment of hesitation. “So you’re telling me those poor people have really found their place?”
“Every last one. Even that horrible old woman seems to be doing well in her new position as an advertising consultant. And she was by far the most dangerous of the lot.”
Kane watched Paul, who stayed silent for a moment. “It’s true, you know,” Kane insisted. “It’s the women that create the worlds to connect them all. It’s not only their innate connection to the night and the moon, their biological calling. It’s how they always stayed behind, how they waited.
“While waiting, they plotted their webs, their stories. They got used to living in a fantasy, blissfully ignoring that which defined the world outside them.” The tone of his voice couldn’t have been less relaxed.
Before Kane had a chance to agree dutifully, Paul ears pricked up, possessed by some latent frequency. “What’s that? That whispering? Do you hear it?”
Kane focused on the faint hum of the coffee machine next-door, on the sound of paper being reprinted over and over again in the corner of the hallway. Surely some important presentation. He answered truthfully, “No, I don’t.”
There was nothing any of them could add to this. They both gathered their papers and hurried out.
* * *
For many years, there were only four cities that mattered, only four. The four cities that were the most important. After their merger, there was only one city that mattered in the world. People would sit and look at the clocks and the towers, the smiling statues of marble and gold. One would think the center would be the most segregated place of all, that each monument and place would desperately try to hold on to its individualism, metal and stone and its people forcing themselves to preen proudly and stand out.
But no. The center was where things met, where they were joined harmoniously under the laws and banners of the Commons. It was the outer circle where the change had happened. People and ideas, the new and terrifying, had been alive far away from the monuments and the signs. It had changed the way in which we had forced ourselves to live. And we tried to stop it.
* * *
On the outside is where I stand. Emptier than it has ever been, this spot, once primed for sale, here is where it all has to start again. One more story to end the muttering of emptiness, my words to refill the moon. A new Bible, maybe to bring them all back. Bringing back just one — anyone — would be enough.
I pick up my tattered notebook, and I begin:
No one man can hold the world. The sky was falling. Kane’s head kept turning round and round, desperately looking for a spot of normalcy. There was none.
Copyright © 2015 by Kallirroe Agelopoulou