Glass City

Nick Greer


[ Glyphs ]

I work in the city’s tallest building, so tall its penthouse is completely ensconced in clouds. The man who lives there is a famous recluse, an engineer or a stockbroker who worked his way to the top, but in doing so drove himself mad. He communicates by sending messages through the tubes that connect the city. The messages are innumerable, arriving one after another, written in a language whose words are unknown because the glyphs that might indicate them change with each message. My job is to decipher these glyphs. Some are lazy scribbles, others complex pointillism, but if you analyze them closely enough, a pattern does emerge. It turns out the man is not crazy, nor a recluse. He’s not even rich, he’s just lonely. He says the food up here is bland, the water too minerally. He says he’s disappointed that clouds are just vapor and not the sputum of fat-cheeked angels, as he had once been promised. He says things were better before.

I took pity on him, how could I not? I wrote him consoling messages, constructing special glyphs for the new thoughts and emotions he inspired in me. I told him that things aren’t much better down here, that everything is upside down, that the steam system has been broken for months now, years maybe. I told him about the protests and the complacency that followed. I told him about the dogs, how they all go to the cane fields to die and how no one can explain it. How we too are so very lonely. I told him everything. For a time his messages stopped, and I worried that maybe I had pushed him over the edge. That I had revealed the grass is not greener, but grayer. But then the messages started again, in familiar glyphs more perfect than I could’ve imagined: I work in the city’s tallest building, so tall its penthouse is completely ensconced in clouds.


[ Manifolds ]

I have dedicated much of my time to determining what lies outside the city. The locals are not particularly helpful. They’re always talking about weekend road trips to the lost beaches up the coast, or maybe catching a monorail to the vineyards for a day trip, but when I ask how it was they tell me you had to be there.

Maps are deceptive. Go far enough in any one direction you’ll discover the same streets you’ve already passed: Klein, August, Roman, Tonnetz—names of cartographers who once drew our peninsula as an island, but this is not a mistake. The natives grow restless with themselves. No matter how a gecko thrashes about, there’s always another to mimic it, so that they might tile this bathroom floor.

I board the monorail only to find it is actually a centrifuge, separating our selves from ourselves. The boy sitting next to me is taking his ant farm to school for show and tell, and suddenly it’s obvious why humans can lift so many times their own weight. The monorail keeps accelerating and the ants are now proving the existence of exotic particles that appear to them as wobbling discs. The ants build and raze statues in likeness of the boy, who has since become a manifold.

Even if we did exist in higher dimensions, we wouldn’t. Instead we all share the same memory of a tired woman, crying quietly into her teacup. Her papers stacked under a paperweight—everything in its place, but therein lies the problem. Snow comes to rest on a palm frond, until it doesn’t anymore.


[ Objects ]

Somewhere in the depths of the city is The Object. It’s difficult to say from which epoch The Object originates because it appears in writing from the city’s past, present, and future. Before their languages were subject to the decree of Romanizar, the Xibipiio tribe told the story of qinchibri, a mythical bird whose feathers, when plucked, could draw mountains and forests into being, even animate the spirits of the dead. The conquistadors knew The Object as piña, which they found growing on a bayside beach. It was even sweeter than the cane they would soon cultivate, and it revealed to them, in terrible visions of pestilence and splendor, God’s intentions for mankind. The stockbrokers of our day make pilgrimages to The Object, hoping to read Taurus and not Ursa in its shimmering constellations. Years from now the same men will be stripped of their fortunes and take to the underground. They will trail the musk of sweat and sandalwood through the steam tunnels, rehearsing the speeches they’ll deliver when they do finally find The Object. You took everything from me, they pray as they walk this labyrinth of no entrances or exits.

Is The Object god, some have asked. In a sense, yes—it is whatever we want to see, whatever we need, whether we know it or not. On the nights I follow my yarn into the city’s belly, I find what I’ve been looking for all along. Contained within The Object is a city, so perfect it can only exist in miniature, its glassy surface the same firmament that contains it. Get close enough to this other world and your breath might become its fog, which is to say something whose beauty mustn’t be explained. Remember when you were a child, and you’d spin a globe on its brass axis, let it rotate until you stopped it by placing a finger on the location you were born or where you would die, which are really the same happening, obverse and finely etched as the sides of a coin? That’s when you’ll think to look over your shoulder and there it is, that sad, abstract face in the stars. He’s spinning out of control and there’s nothing to hold onto, no totem, no crystal ball, just the grooves of your own tiny shell.


Nick Greer is writer living in Tucson where he is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona. His writing has appeared in Anamesa, Cleaver Magazine, and PLINTH. He has received awards, fellowships, and scholarships from the Academy of American Poets, the University of Arizona, Tin House, and the NYS Summer Writers Workshop.