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Friday, December 10, 2010

Reverse City (Standing Mountain)

In Reverse City, the sun rises backwards today (like most days). Water cannot be drunk since the tap is not working…it is one of those drought days when water gets back in the plumbing system instead of reaching a glass. Cars follow the reverse code today…only odd numbers in the streets, moving backwards…odd and alone. It’s springtime…actually not…flowers are dying instead of blooming, leaves are falling, butterflies become worms again…poor things…animals fall to lethargy …people do too…inescapably…

She just sits there, maniacally reading the manual, trying to understand this paradoxical change that is about to occur, struggling to get used to the new possible plans, laws and ideas. “How is it possible to fry an egg in an upside down pan? I mean… it’s easier to fry it in a straightened one, isn’t it?”, she keeps asking with naïve curiosity… He doesn’t answer as most of the time, sinking in his greenish, upside down armchair and sipping his coffee in the exact same way for years and years now. “Why don’t you read the manual too? Things are changing! Things have to change!”, she shouts in attention-wanting despair but he…he still can’t listen, he still can’t take his eyes away from that big, glassy window in the right corner of the living room. The deep voice of the television presenter is echoed in the room… “Florists are protesting outside the Main Hall this very instant, since their precious flowers are dying one by one…nine million six thousand eight hundred thirty-three and a half flowers so far…”

They have been dying for years now (the flowers that is), over thirty, stopped counting at some point. You see, there is no rain. Its water drops go back where they come from…never reaching the ground. The distant myth is still alive though. The rumour about that everlasting flower- the Undead, existing somewhere out there. The picture of a colourful garden, hidden away from this upside down city with the reversed pieces of furniture, pots and pans. No wonder why she is in pain all the time. “These chairs are killing me”, she keeps repeating. “This window has been killing me for years”, is the only answer she can get from him if she’s lucky enough.

The clock is stopped, the egg is being fried, her almost purple legs are in pain, his insomniac eyes are still fixed on a spot, way beyond their block of flats, his coffee is finished, the egg is half-burnt already, flowers continue to expire, rain remains banned from the city and the tired voice of the television presenter, travels from flat to flat, saying so much, saying nothing…

Her voice breaks (as usual). “You don’t love me anymore, do you? I mean, when we were younger you were different. Remember those years? When we were free, one country, going on carefree picnics every weekend, taking the kids to fly their kites and then secretly kissing under the trees…remember? I really miss those years, you know. I keep dreaming about them from time to time. The sweet smell of spring rain, the people and their smiles. You used to love me then, I’m sure you did! Our home! You loved our home too! Our own Garden of Eden! I was happy then. We were happy…then”.

As usual, this is just a monologue. Of course he remembers. Of course he loved her. Yet, what else is left to say? Those years can never come back. Even if he tells her he still adores her (which is more than true), they will never go back home, they will never reach their garden, no matter what the television presenter has been stating for decades and decades. Enough with that voice, promising change, keeping the hope alive! That voice penetrates his soul so deeply that he just wishes he could crash that TV and smash that guy’s face like a watermelon. It’s all lies! The myth about the undead flower! Come on! How brainless can someone be! What is dead cannot come back to life! What is lost cannot be regained! That’s why he’s like that. That’s why he no longer speaks. To say what? There is nothing more to say! 

Words, words, words. Enough! Vowels and consonants scattered and echoed everywhere and nowhere. And this manual….for God’s sake, do they actually expect him to read and understand it? His children maybe, if they are open-minded enough and if they actually care about this upside down city anymore. He can’t. It’s been too long! It’s their fault! They had him waiting for too fucking long! He cannot help it. He cannot see things differently. He hopes his children can though, he wishes his children can forget and forgive for him but he cannot! It’s too late for him… Too late for her too… she just cannot realize that no matter what she does, no matter how hard she tries, she will keep burning the egg in the upside down pan cause that upside down pan is not her. It’s not her life. It’s not her thought. It’s not!

He keeps staring at the window, expressionless, fed up, tired, too tired. She still reads chapter 34 of the manual on how to serve soup in an upside down bowl. She’s tired too but at least she’s trying. That’s what she keeps telling herself, trying to make that derelict self feel useful for a change. Deep inside, she still believes in that myth. She happily wakes up everyday, waiting to see a shiny drop of rain on her dead tulip by the window. She’s not the only one in Reverse City waiting for that sudden and miracle-like water drop. Sometimes, she thinks she sees one, becomes ecstatic for a second or two… and then comes to the conclusion that it’s just the spit of her husband who had been cursing again, early in the morning. Yet, that doesn’t stop her from commenting on the television presenter’s voice from time to time…sympathizing with his determined efforts to inform the citizens of this city as accurately as possible and being at the same time so cute and all.  She once read a book by an Italian she doesn’t really remember his name. By accident that is. She was never into reading, that’s why she finds it so difficult to understand the manual. At least, that’s what she keeps repeating to comfort herself…

The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what we live every day, what we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you no longer see it…
The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space”. 
Strange words! She never understood them… but she did love the word inferno, now repeated by her favourite presenter’s lips! She never realized which group of people she really belonged to…possibly because she never understood that she herself was trapped in that inferno… in one way or another…. 

He did. He experienced that inferno every time he looked out of that window… she could no longer see it but…he could see it alright. He never stopped staring at it, especially at night, grinning with its flashy lights straight at him, making fun of his upside down city, his upside down furniture and his self-blinded wife moving back and forth in her kitchen. That permanent and motionless thing with the scars and wounds, visible under the sun, illuminated at night. That straight mountain with that straight flag, in this upside down city with its upside down hopes, standing with pride and staring back at him, commanding him, instructing him…never, never, never to forget…

The sun sets backwards today in Reverse City… “nine million six thousand eight hundred thirty-nine and a quarter dead flowers so far…rain possibility minimal”. Lights on the standing mountain…lights off in the living room, harsh sounds of cutlery sneaking in from the kitchen...He is still there. Looking odd like most people. Odd and alone. Yet, sleepless for days now. No butterfly dreams anymore. The television presenter’s voice pauses for a moment, as if absurdly sensing his inferno and giving him space…for a brief moment…there in the dark…by the transparent window… a drop of salty water slowly falls…vertically…accidentally…crashing on the tulip’s last bending leaf...
MI, Spring 2008

One of the winner-stories in the 'Sea of Words' international competition, published in the 'Sea of Words' Anthology by the IEMed and the Anna Lindh Foundation and translated into Spanish - also published in Cadences Literary Journal


  1. For the upside-down city the only thing that can't be reversed is its own past. Our past is the dead flower, the most beautiful among all flowers and you Mary the 4-leaf clover!

  2. what a lovely comment/compliment! (considering the fact that 4-leaf clovers symbolize luck and are quite rare). The upside-down city symbolizes the death of our past but also the chaos of our future, and at points, the loss of inspiration in a writer's life - a flower looks dead but its roots are still alive.