Academic journal article Chicago Review


Academic journal article Chicago Review


Article excerpt

At times in the sloppiness of those days, with cigarette ashes and spilled drinks gumming the table in the Butterfly Arcade and the alarmed or disgusted proprietor hovering and sizzling vectors of living energy making a whirling constellation of our little collective-at such times I found myself overcome with a depthless, infinite peace, and I resolved henceforth to live knowing each moment could be my last. But then Georgo would grin epicenely and say, Why don't you come to Dome?

By now, we would be sitting in someone's flat, pushing drink toward day, and I would go to the window and part the heavy red curtains with one hand extended flat-palmed and flaglike into the cleft there, stepping out onto a balcony with a low iron railing jutting over the street, feeling at once the city's solidity, the time-killing gnarl of stone settled and grown into stone, and its precarious balance, the chance shift of a block over its fulcrum plunging one down into the gray rock night of the light-stained street-down which, having picked oneself up with aching bones, one half-expected to see advancing a hooded procession bearing torches and smelling of tar, sweat and blood, remnants of a lost order of dialect, clanking their weapons and boots under robes.

But I never really got to know the city, or wean myself from the map and the stutter, and never lost the sense that I was elsewhere.

We were exiles and seekers on a fringe, undertaking work that would come to nothing. If any one of us ever discovered the universal language, it would have spelled the end of our efforts. We wore the Esperantists' uniforms, which freed us from invisibility but made of us minor public spectacles. Both natives and foreigners sometimes mistook us for civil servants, or a special military unit. It was the first time I had worn a costume since my religious school days, and I was happy to dispose of the rest of my clothes. I didn't know where my blood had come from, but I had an idea where it might go.

My rebellion had come to nothing. Georgo had arranged it that way. We were excommunicated by the Esperantists, and Johano was drilled in the finger by a silver bullet from the pistol of a Gray Wolf, one simmering summer evening, on Independence Avenue. The metal hit the pavement and threw up a shower of stones and tar. We ran.

We spent three days drinking in Trakya. Johano wanted to go to Greece... But Gaja, and my pact with Georgo, pulled me back.

We went to Dome. We brought a supply of tashbeni. The others joined us one by one. We trod the cobblestones, attending congresses, meeting with factions. We discovered to our surprise and relief and suspicion that knowledge of the terrain was secondary to a willingness to enter it, and that we could be taught anything necessary to support this or any other cause in a relatively short time. What the anti-Esperantists needed were warm bodies.

We did a little running around, and then we learned to dress ourselves in the native style, so as to glide instead, and we watched the sun setting behind a bridge or a dome and then rode our motorcyclettes home, half-drunk, through stone and ornamentation to meet our associates at a café.

And the evening would accelerate and Johano, grown bold with tashbeni, would glare expectantly around, sloshing the dregs in the bottle, rotating it in an hourglass motion. I would look through the glass into the pink fading day and the purple rising night, and feel very very far from home indeed.

The pace suited me. If we got something done, we got something done. If not-there was always the next day. The next day could turn into a string of days, a lost week or two or three or four, at the vanishing point of which Gaja and I, coming awake sitting on a long stairway somewhere or walking round and round in a square or standing on a bridge over the river, would shake the wax out of our ears and ask, What have we been doing? I'd purchased a second-hand camera, but dropped it into the river; we'd searched Dome for the perfect notebooks, then left them behind in cafés full of tourists and little old native ladies eating pastries alone. …

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