Fibonacci Sequence

by Stephen Guppy

In your new life as a Babylonian astrologer, you are entrusted with the regulation and taxation of shipping. You wonder about the relevance of maritime commerce to your knowledge of the stars, but you decide not to ask the Comptroller. The question remains on your tongue like a dark patch of blight on a leaf. For several days, you search for the harbour. In the fragrant bazaars and used-car lots of the metropolis, people avoid your gaze and refuse to reply to your questions. Some try to ward off the influence of your presence with intricate symbolic gestures. Others distract you with detailed answers that have nothing to do with your questions. Eventually, you wander off.

You find the dockyards quite by chance. They are located in the middle of the desert. There are no ships, as such, but many shadows. An armada of dark shapes is moored on the sand. They ripple and drift incessantly to the motion of unimaginable currents. You stand in glaring sunlight beside the midnight silhouette of a magnificent three-masted windjammer, and you find that you cannot prevent yourself from looking at the sky. The atmosphere is white as salt, whiter even than the desert.

What use is an astrologer in a world of perpetual light?

Your return to the metropolis is delayed by the refugees. The General Evacuations are in progress. You abandon your vehicle in a crowd of de-mobbed Hussars. The avenues are clogged with homeless citizens in the throes of becoming nomads. Some have already torn off their wimples and ties. Some are already sprouting tender antlers. You fight your way laboriously to the sidewalk, then scuttle along in front of the deserted shops, stepping over the blind, the infirm, the beggars with their Tupperware bowls and mats of woven rushes. The mob is heterogeneous, a detailed cross-section of every trade and guild and ethic group from the meanest south-side ghettos to the shining urban core. There are businessmen mired with their bicycles, clerics with extravagant headgear, students from the lycées and gymnasia, half-naked priestesses of ritual aerobics, and witch-wives with LCD lights in their hair. They are all flowing out of the city. You appear to be the only one who is entering the town.

At the entrance to the Ministry, the doorman eyes you with transparent suspicion and declines to take your electronically-coded pass card, which flutters to the concrete between you and him like a bird that has died in mid-migration. When you retrieve it from the ground, you realize that the hologram portrait looks nothing like you, and in fact may be a picture of a small dog or rodent half-obscured by a nest of lianas. The foyer appears to be deserted, the doorman having run off into the street, the tails of his overcoat flapping. You make your way apprehensively to the elevator bay and ascend to the 37th floor unmolested.

The Comptroller's receptionist is eight or nine years old. She is sitting cross-legged on her desk in a white communion dress and embroidered silver slippers. She is playing a game with a pair of dice and several tiny snail shells. There are much larger shells on the wall behind the desk, cross-sections of some gigantic fossil nautilus. You ignore the receptionist, walk past her desk, and open the door to the Comptroller's inner office.

The Comptroller regards you noncommittally from across his cluttered desk. The bird in his skull is sleeping now; its wings do not trouble his vision. He has apparently been writing a warrant or perhaps a confession of his sins. A snail half the size of your thumbnail is making its way across the sheet of paper, leaving the ghost of a road in its wake.

When the Comptroller speaks, his voice is water dripping. His voice is water pooling into concavities in limestone. His voice is dissolving minerals in the depths of an underground lake. You are shocked to discover that you seem to understand him. You answer with the fluting notes of your vibrating palette, with pulsions of your gathered lips, with the drumming of the tongue on the dentalia. The room is filled with oboe notes that flutter against the windows.

Outside, the sky has lost its sheen. The clouds are now the billowing sails of an infinite airborne armada. The sails are the shape of nautilus shells, and the hulls are also nacreous spirals. You are momentarily alarmed, fearful that these gigantic ships may crash into the building. You realize, however, that the distance between the armada and your location is much larger than you'd thought, that perhaps all distances are inherently farther than they seem, that these vessels are the shells of snails so vast that the mind cannot perceive or comprehend them, as are the clouds and the city and the desert itself.

The Comptroller regards you with the small brass-bound telescope that is affixed to his one remaining eye. The bird is awakening. The snail has traversed the sheet of paper.

Your body is a harbour and your mind a map of stars.

 


Stephen Guppy has published a novel, a couple of collections of stories, and three poetry books. His stories and poems have appeared in Ambit, Stand, Alaska Quarterly Review, Malahat Review, Descant, Prism international, and others.