he dreamer sees
the city from a distance. Its many spires rise,
clenching domes in dry clay fists. He stands on a train platform,
overlooking a dusty plain. A wooden train chatters down the track and
stops at the station. The dreamer boards. After he climbs the steps into
the cabin, the train begins to move. He looks back at the station. It is
empty. The train stirs dust as it moves across the plain. The dreamer
nears the city, but he sees only thick brown smudges where the towers used
to stand. He sits down and unbuttons his collar. The cabin is empty, but a
full wine glass sits on the card table. The liquid is green and cloudy.
He drinks it quickly: a taste like licorice burns his throat.
The train passes through a tunnel, or a thick city wall. Inside the city,
everything is clear and colorful. The train stops at a bazaar. The
dreamer disembarks, surrounded by foreign colors, scents, sounds. The
steady susurrus of the train slowly fades. The dreamer looks at the
passing windows: they are all empty. Tents and shoppers obscure his view
of the train. He weaves through crowds in caftans and gauze. The songs of
shopkeepers fill the streets with a dense labyrinth of possibilities. The
dreamer follows the sounds, sometimes moving in a single direction, at
other times circling randomly from tent to tent. He wants only to remain in
the movement of voices. He brushes by the blue and white overhangs of
restaurants, steps over winding tobacco hoses, ducks through archways tiled
with gold writing. Soon, his movement stops.
He stands at the edge of a crowd gathered in a large burgundy tent. A
murmur passes through the crowd; the dreamer is forcefully pushed to its
center, until the tips of his boots hang over the edge of a submerged
limestone pool. He stares at the rocks: the imprints of nautilus shells
and trilobites speak of even older desert cities. A splash, accompanied by a clatter of
teeth and tongue against his boot sole, rouses the dreamer. He jumps back,
his movement halted by the crowd. The tent fills with laughter; the
dreamer sees fins speeding across the water. A trickle of blood spills
from the torn toe of his boot. Old men dangle their beards over the edge
of the water, pulling away as the dog-sized fish slap the water with
frustrated leaps. The dreamer backs against the crowd, his heels digging
into fossilized recessions. Clumps of grey hair float over the water like
Others try to grab the clumps, laughing as the fish nip their long
fingernails. One holds a severed beard from a well-creased smirk, and
hangs the hair over the water. Another kneels by the dreamer's feet,
whistles, and links both hands together, forming a loop. Three fish clear
the hoop, their scales gleaming like prisms, and slide through the crowd.
The dreamer squints, watching as the fish flop to a stop by a wooden table.
A butcher cleans a knife of Damascus steel. His assistant heaves one of
the fish onto the table. A scrap of leather flaps from its gasping jaws.
The dreamer follows the fish-slick trail to the table. The crowd closes
The butcher raises the knife over the fish; he bludgeons and gnaws through
the dense scales. The crowd watches in silence. He turns to the dreamer,
his hands hidden in the fish. In broken English, he says, "For a sip of
absinth, I will tell you your fortune."
Dean Swinford neither condemns or
condones the consumption of absinth. His essay, "Defining irrealism: scientific development
and allegorical possibility," appeared in Irreal (Re)views #1.
Back to the Top
Issue 7 |
story copyright by author 2002 all rights reserved