Art by Norman E. Masters
|by Chuck Pearson|
A city. An abandoned city. Without any people. Or cats or dogs. Or pigeons or rats. Empty, emptier than the desert in the full heat of the day, for even in the desert there had been life, when the city was empty. But the city is dead.
There is nothing as lonely as an abandoned city. Memories drift in idle circles and chatter meaninglessly. An echo, who perhaps wandered in from the mountains and could not find his way out again, shouts every time he hears a sound. Not knowing the language of other beings, he repeats every sound; but everyone ignores him; and he stays forever lost in the abandoned city. But hope is everlasting, and he still tries to find the proper greeting.
In the street a newpaper is blowing over and over. A breeze had come to frolic in the empty streets. A coke bottle, inspired by the impish wind, hums a low note; and that note is not unlike the whistle of a tugboat, lost in fog. Once the city knew many of those whistles. But that was merely another of the memories that flitted through the empty streets.
The newspaper, crumpled and abandoned long before, went on a tour of the streets. An empty dish, bearing the name of Fido, provided an easy stepping stone for the bounding paper. A memory rolled out of the way of the yellowed bearer of news.
On Seventh Avenue a discount drugstore proclaims the bargains of the day. Aspirin: 29 ¢ per 50 ct. Charcoal lighter: 59 ¢, 8 oz. can. Shower caps: 29 ¢, lmt. one to a customer. Marvel Ice Cream!! van., cklt., strbry., 59 ¢ per half gallon ctn. Milk, 39 ¢ per half gallon btl. Plus deposit.
The rains had again come the night before and a puddle hollowly drips down into the storm drain. The echo hauntingly repeats each droplet splash over and over but cannot understand what the puddle is trying to say.
A hotel room window stands open to the weather. The wall-to-wall carpeting lays discolored where the rain had soaked it and the sun had bleached it. The spot is wet beneath the window from the previous night's storm. A perfume bottle, with nothing but a dry residue remaining in it, lays on its side on the walnut finish covered dresser. The bottom drawer sticks out like the lower lip of an Ubangi, a nylon stocking with a long run in it drooling over the edge. The top of the stocking is fastened to a girdle which had once been used to conceal a condition of growing fat. Beneath the dust layer the inside edge shows ground-in dirt, dirt forced in by continual wearing and no washing of the girdle or the occupant. On the wall a picture, blown by the wind of the night before, hangs crookedly, revealing a heavy chip in the plaster that it had been intended to cover. The paint shows a lighter, cleaner color where it had been protected by the painting. The picture itself might once have been a landscape but now is so faded that it could have been anything at all. A radio lays silent, broken, on the floor. The nylon stirs fractionally in the incoming breeze.
In the square a dry fountain stands. The newspaper tumbles into the square. The fountain shows a youth. His right hand is upraised. From here water had once spouted and sparkled. His left hand gestures straightforwardly as if to stress a point. His left thumb is missing, broken off. The stub jaggedly points up while the fingers point straight ahead. And as with all fountains of men or women, he is naked. An inscription, the brass letters standing out a deeper green than the light green of corrosion of the brass plate, commends the spirit of all who pass to the mercy of God. The newspaper blows by and flops, end over end, out of the square.
The department store, showcase of all that is civilized. Standing silently before the empty window, a manikin gazes out on the empty city. An all-knowing half-smile curves her wooden lips as she stares at the street in front of her. Sand, caught up from the gutter, blows against the window with a gentle rain falling sound. The window protecting the manikin rattles loosely in its frame. A gust of wind shakes the window more furiously. Still the dust-covered figure in the faded blue dress smiles imperturbedly.
Upon the back wall a calendar hangs next to the picture of public enemy no. 1. The calendar reads June 8; the poster reads John Doe, alias Joe Doe, John Jones, Joe Jones and Martin Smith. This man is armed and dangerous. Do not attempt to capture him. Call the FBI. The calendar just says June 8. Stainless steel cages stand across from the calendar and the poster of John Doe. No longer shining, but covered with a layer of dust. The air is abnormally clear in the bank.
The newspaper whisks on wind wings through the suburbs, the home of the civilized. Empty glass windows open to empty rooms in empty houses in the empty city. Upon a lawn a rotary mower lays rusting under its money green paint. The mower is covered with a thin layer of the everpresent dust. A tree branch cracks off in the wind and strikes the sidewalk. The echo seizes the sound and shouts it back in an attempt to dispel the loneliness of the abandoned city. It repeats the sound again, more softly, then leaves, murmuring the sound more and more quietly in an effort to understand the deep hidden meaning. The newspaper riffles under the branch for an instant before sliding free.
A pin-wheel weather vane spins round and round in the breeze, faithfully giving wind velocity and direction though there is no one to read it. Beside it a barometer predicts the weather. The wind vane slowly turns around and the newspaper is blown back into the tomb-like city just as it is about to reach the dead forest beside the city. It flies high, high above the skyscrapers whose uppermost bricks are turning into dust from erosion. From the heights it inspects the city, the monument of the ultimate goal of civilization. Then it plummets downward, and accidentally touches the surface of a puddle, and flips on its back in the water. It lays there, too heavy to move. Its message is emblazoned upon it in five inch letters: W A R . Attack expected momentarily. Prepare for heavy fallout in the form of dust film.
The echo repeats over and over the sound of a falling brick.