Terminal City

January 7, 2011


Preston Grassmann is the co-author of the forthcoming novel, The Floating World, a collaboration with World Fantasy Nominee, KJ Bishop. He has worked as a regular reviewer for Locus Magazine and New York Review of Science Fiction and his latest fiction will appear in Bull Spec. He currently lives in Japan surrounded by a growing collection of drawings and paintings for his latest project, Amano prints, and unreliable maps of The Tokyo Underground.

Standing among the bathypelagic flora of the sea, among the salt hills and the forests of kelp I ask about her again, about mother.

His eyes settle somewhere too far away to reach, a look passing over him like a mirage, shimmering and unreachable, eyes alive with swirls of reflected green and brown
the island of steel towers and roadways and bridges, where mourners come and wait,
staring at its monuments as if they are the faces of lovers or family or lost children,
looking at the concrete and steel walls with tears and smiles, hoping for something more, for some sign that they are inside.

I walk down through streets flanked by empty places, abandoned sets, hollow buildings and derelict towers like props, toys for stage-hands and I remember the dreams of her,
of someone
smiling down through a spinning mobile, soft hands and whispers, tender sounds,
toys held in small hands, plastic fauna in a garden of flower-printed blankets, my own props. I hear a song, the sigh of wind through towers, playing through hollow chambers,
and the cry of bridges, their mile-long cables like mourners at a familiar dirge,
and where the sun breaks through the towers, it falls against concrete and steel,
a slow-burning pyre that fails to turn the city into dust.

I walk inside, and between world and memory it comes, hands reaching into an infants crib, and thoughts are ghostly ciphers, city streets filling up with bodies, with motion,
castles in a playground, blossoming out of sand.

The ghosts build their own city and the dead watch me as I go, as I call out her name and
I hear a man whisper that walking in is a one-way journey, prayers to broken stones,
the Styx can never flow upstream.
And then he emerges from the stone, standing halfway out, caught between substance and shadow, eyes gleaming like obsidian, the city behind him sliding away, crumbling into sand, trees bursting out of cracks in the stone, glass falling from the sky like rain,
a dream I had many times, replayed.
And at the edge of the scene, marking the border of the memory, other buildings sway
and from the fallen sections of the city, still crumbling into sand, I see them come,
rising out of broken windows and the remains of the stone.
A million butterflies, memories that fill the empty bed of the city,
alive with swirls of green and brown.

Mother, I say, as I watch the butterflies descend,
their orange and yellow wings like pieces of sunlight broken away,
floating fires in honor of the dead, pulsing in time to the motion of the swaying trees,
to the sound of the wind through the spaces of the fallen buildings,
in a wave of color that flutters across the sky like rainbows and rain,
to give the world back something it has lost, a mobile spinning above me,
and the butterflies turn, swirling their colors against the sun,
the sound of their wings the sigh of a mother.

Mother, I reach up and touch them, tender and soft against my fingers, rising off the ground, lifting off, back to the outer edge of the city.

© Preston Grassmann


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