Alloy at ease
What is my homeland? A piece of metal that reflects wherever I happen to be. It’s upside-down and curved and shiny, a mirror, a shelter, a constant companion. Not a bad thing to have about, versatile too: Once in the sun it served as pagoda, and I drank iced tea beneath it. Another time, when I was sad, I turned it over, so it reflected the ground. Hope I’ll never feel like doing that again. Oh, and there was the time I used it as a shield against tiny people trying to throw paper airplanes at me. Now occasionally I invite people in and tell them jokes. Not a bad way to live, not at all, I think. When I’m done here, and have had all the fun I’m to have, I’ll find some nearby hill, take a deep breath, and flip my homeland, this beloved piece of metal, up so that it faces the sky.
One October afternoon, after a cold snap, I decided I’d wrestle the unruly vine that had been on the balcony for ages, a task I’d been putting off. Multiply tendrilled, long and blue, it swayed in the breeze in a sort of distracted way. I leaped on it and was able to take it by surprise. It reared up immediately when it felt my firm grip: curling into a question mark, then a furious exclamation point. With its free lianas it shook me off, grabbed at nearby pine cones, hurled them my way. Then, with incredible rapidity, it braided its various parts together, to decrease surface area and strike with greater force. After releasing an scent of liquid soap, sort of lemony and not as unpleasant as surely intended, it whipped its braid at me in the form of a lasso, and spritzed with hostility all the water in its vascular tissue. Faced with a display of such spirit, such prowess, I took up my gardening shears and went on my way. This was no mere weed.
Red sealing wax shut tight the letter, carried by a bird in its beak and deposited in my lap, which unbeknownst to itself had been waiting. I slipped out the paper, cream-colored with black cursive lines, and read my own past self telling me what it thought I was up to. A project for school: a statistics teacher had asked us to imagine the future, then posted the letters a few years later, once the slate of memory had been wiped clean. After reading, I crumpled the page and tossed it in the bin. Just then another bird came along. This one dropped a letter on my lap too, sealed with yellow wax. “I am your future self,” I read. “Run!” Though I had no idea what was going on, I did as bid. From nowhere, there descended a huge beam of light, striking the place where Id just been, eliminating the second bird and the bench on which I’d been sitting. Who said letters sent to oneself have no use? This note I’ll keep.
At Christie’s London, the old tomes were going, the whole collection broken up. A signore from Milan was weeping visibly; his historic house had completed at last its centuries-long process of decadence and now the pages so long shelved for private library consultation only would meet the fresh air. There were Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Gilbert, Hevelius, a ledger of other storied names. Oh, those books had been there for ages, just ages; they’d seen so much, witness to parties and champagne, gossip and stolen kisses, political deals and tense games of skopa by the fire. They’d kept mum all this time, guarding their secrets. No more. And in reality, when white-haired Ms Priscilla McAlistair timidly raised her hand for Folio 5, it was less the accumulated wisdom on lunar topography and heliocentric orbits that drew her, than this fine gold dust, this glamour she hoped would come off a little on her hands, her eyes.
She can’t help but stop. There she is reflected in dark glass, interior of the castle behind her, rectangles that let in night, stone walls. Her face fills the frame: a young girl, pale, two big blue eyes, slim nose, rosebud mouth. Dreamily she admires herself, the minutes pass… then the hated voice speaks! “Pretty face,” it murmurs, and stretches long fingers over her shoulder, removing the frame from the wall, carrying it away. “Lovely thing,” she hears, before it vanishes down the corridor. She shrieks with despair: it’s slipped away with her head, so now she’s no more than a gauze dress in slippers. A foiled escape: There are ways to get out of the dungeon, but why did her captors have to place a mirror by the door?
Zig and zag
Dunes are stacked up one after the other all the way to the horizon. They turn, forming a shape that from above looks something like arrows, pointing this way and that, zig and zag. A shifting zone, one that alters based on your movement and way of seeing. An organized energy field. What color is next to what other color matters, as does the line you follow. (They all lead to the same place, but it’s important how you get there.) You may think of the waves as if they are sound, for that is what they truly are, a channel between this earth and another. They lead you to a terminal, somewhere calm you never want to leave, somewhere that your loved ones wait . Follow the colored lines, which move like the shadows of swaying branches: a path that curves as you walk, a different curve for everyone. A unique frequency. The tunnel everyone speaks of is in reality this, and for you it remains a long way off. But when it comes, here is how it will be. A sound, clean and brilliant, metal spoon against sparkling crystal. That C sharp (or whatever note you may hear) will send out waves, and you will follow them, to the end.