Wednesday 22 June 2016

The Prince of Exiles, 22

The rain has stopped; yellow streetlamps dye the lowering blanket of clouds a purplish shade that looks like dawn.

The trickle of rivulets of water in the gutters, slick stone, no animals or people in the streets. The smell of ozone. The heartbeat, mechanical, heavy. I can feel it now in the ground, this whole city, the royal quarter, the empty palace built as a residence for the God-Emperor who never came to live here; the market and the forum and the council with its pillars and steps and pediments; the residences of the citizenry, the clean conical spires of the apartment towers; and down the hill below me the slums, low, still neatly arranged, wide geometric pathways methodically bulldozed out, inhabited or not.

I close my eyes, feel the heaviness of the air, the storm having done nothing to break the humidity, an uncomfortable spread of sweat in my armpits (far away I would begin to crumble with anxiety at the thought of smelling bad). I feel the heartbeat in the wet ground, the factories.

Spewing out light-polluted smoke, down there, between here and the slums, their foundations deep under the rock that spreads under this great city, largest of the cities of the North, but never the richest or the most powerful, always overlooked in favour of the City of the Waterways, the City of the Grey Spires, the City of the Silver Skins. Bitter, jealous. Spurned.

It's to the factories I go.

I have a point to make. Somewhere not far away my friends, the lovers are burying a slave-guard in a garden.

The trickles of water follow me down the hill, down into the place where the white marble becomes less frequent and pale grey brick takes over, where the roads are narrower and have no pavement for foot travellers. Still clean, still well-lit, but not the places of the Great and Good. Doors, smaller, marked with numbers and letters; windows that rise up and up on those towers, some lit, revealing a city that is alive, but which still hides from me, even if it cannot see me.

Something falls from the sky, ricochets from a wall with a wet slap, skids on the street. I hear someone let out a cry of pain from some distance away. Another clap, another, a splatter of something reddish-black on a wall.

Something hits me on the side of my face, something cold and unfamiliar, another thing, the smell of the sea, of salt, of dying. Fish. Fish are falling from the sky, raining down, battering me hard; I dive into a doorway. Silver-scaled fish, breaking open on the stone, patches of foul-smelling fishblood, silvery smears of orphan scales. Other creatures too, battering down in a second wave, a jellyfish landing on the ground across the road and bursting like a bag of water, a cuttlefish, marine worms, a water-snake, slapslapslapslapslap raining down, the stench rich, deep.

And I think of a torn-off hand dropped by a bird, and I wonder what this sign presages.

[Collected Writings Index