Escape From The Village Called City (excerpts)

Sunrise in the village called City. Medieval houses with stone walls and straw roofs grow an armor of steel and glass and reach for the clouds. Narrow crooked cobblestone streets are flooded with twelve lanes of asphalt and shiny screaming traffic. Frantic hands model the ball of fire until it fits into a three-piece suit. The ball of fire smiles and goes along with the game, what do they all want of me, should I go to a job, raise a family, wash the dishes, follow orders, fill in forms? At home he's not allowed to burn and at work he's not allowed to explode or else he might ruin his suit and find himself naked. And then the other employees might get scared, and the boss might get angry, their own inner ball of fire might wake up and start burning too and that would be the end of normal village life. So he crouches down with all the others to drink from the river of coffee, a swarm of documents rushes through his hands and on each document he touches, he leaves behind his empty fingerprints, dark oval stamps, just as unique as everybody else's. And now it's time for the weekly assessment meeting with all the other employees and the boss. All right, who didn't do the dishes this time? No one confesses. No one did it. Everyone is innocent. Now the boss is really getting mad. We haven't been producing enough pollution over the last quarter, he thunders, the competition is already a hole in the ozone layer ahead of us! The shareholders will only be pocketing three point six billion this week! Progress isn't moving ahead, growth is shrinking, being number one simply isn't good enough anymore! And anyone here who doesn't get cancer just isn't working hard enough! Sunset in the village called City. The office buildings burst open and the balls of fire all come rolling out into the streets. All headed home for a relaxing evening of preprocessed snacks and canned entertainment. One of the suits collapses empty to the ground, at the same time a shooting star disappears over the horizon, in the distance a great laugh thunders, could there be a storm heading our way? A vagabond finds the suit, dusts it off, tastes the fabric between his greasy fingers. He shakes his head and drops the suit. No one would ever give him anything anymore if he went out begging in an outfit like that.

In every street there's at least one housewife who daydreams of fixing a rope to the ceiling so she can surprise her husband when he comes home after a hard day's work. How was your day at the office, she doesn't ask. Same as usual, he doesn't answer. No kiss kiss. In the oven there's a TV dinner spreading a stench of cremation. But her purple swollen tongue won't be eating tonight. His soundless scream doesn't wake her up. Unfaithful bitch, he hisses under his breath, don't you remember we promised we would always stay unicellular, we wouldn't have sex and we would never die, we would reproduce by dividing so we'd both have a clone as soon as we figured out how, and didn't we also solemnly agree not to eat any meals all manufactured in advance by the supermarket? He grabs the TV dinner and dumps it into the garbage can. Did she have anything to eat, the police ask him later on. He categorically denies. And what about this TV dinner here, they bark, what's that supposed to mean? They hold his face above the open garbage can. Beef stroganoff, moo goo gai pan and turtle soup, he sighs, the dessert must still be in the fridge... The police drag him off to the dining room. Lies, nothing but lies, they growl and then they put on some moody music, set the table with white paper tablecloth and plastic champagne glasses, light the candles and serve dinner. And in the weekends a long romantic walk on the beach and a good glass of wine, they order. Everyone has already forgotten her except the stench and the maggots... The sound of a car door slamming shut in the driveway wakes her out of her daydream, her husband walks in and she stands up for a kiss. Kiss my wounds, kiss my strangled neck and my purple face, the doctor says he'll have to amputate my soul, it's the only way he can save me, do you still love me?

Not everyone believes in the pursuit of happiness. Those like me who can't believe are labeled sick and need help. I'm sitting on a hard chair in an endless row of identical chairs in an endless white corridor, staring at a floor that's shining like it's coated with a thin layer of water, waiting for the storm that will change everything. But the water just goes on lying there windlessly under the endless row of bright fluorescent lamps. Time has broken down here, the sun is always high in the sky so time has no reason to move. Hospital trolleys full of clattering metal roll by and even with my eyes drowning in the floor, I know each of them is full of sharp shiny instruments all loaded with pain. A door opens, a pair of resolute heels click clacks closer and sternly calls out the next name. I can hear them but I don't see them, so perfect is their camouflage, white uniforms in white corridors, even the hands and faces are white. They're going to give me the help I need. That's how they call it. Not quite yet, first some more waiting all alone in terror and then soon. The lights so bright that the shadows are clinging to my brain so they won't be burned alive.

The husband will never say it out loud but his face tells me he knows. You need help, grumbles his worried frown, you're not like me, not like the rest of us, you're sick, I should know, you can trust me, I'm the king of the village and the village is the center of the universe, life is pain and there's no way out but it doesn't matter, and believe me there's nothing out there behind the mountains, there's only one salvation, you have to keep yourself busy, don't you see how good we've got it, I've always been ready to comfort you every day of the week and I hope you'd do the same for me if I ever needed it, you know I've always been kind and predictable, even had a sense of humor every now and then, but of course that just wasn't enough for you, you're never satisfied, whenever you relax your sphincters you lose control and start to cry, and now you think you're in love again, what is it this time, some kid half your age, you crazy woman, don't you see it'll be over soon and then what, you'll be all alone again with me, you poor thing, when are you going to grow up and accept the facts... The good doctor can't cut out your pain, it's the most important organ you've got, without pain you wouldn't know right from wrong and then what would you do, wander off all alone into the freezing mountains and die... And don't ask me if I still love you, you should know my love not by my words but by my deeds, you of all people should know such words mean nothing.

In antiseptic torture chambers on the periphery of the village, mad scientists experiment on terrified prisoners delivered to their mercy. Prisoners of their own cancers, their infections, their malformations, their failing organs, the misery that's mutilating their cells. The good doctor doesn't know much either, but at least he can give everything a big Latin name, just like they do in church or in court, he also did a lot of practicing on dead people and you're lucky to have one who's been around for a while because the more experienced he is at his handicraft, the better your chances of surviving his treatment. He looks and pokes around inside the prisoners with his knife, he squeezes out some juices here and there, he experiments with various kinds of poisons that chase the sickness from one organ into the next... He commands big expensive machines with long tentacles into openings in the bodies and whenever he needs an opening that isn't there he just cuts one.

They call out the word Mrs. followed by the husband's name and I know this means me. They lead me to a steel chair bolted to the floor, straight and stiff as a church pew. Masked women bow and kneel before me to strap my wrists and ankles to the chair. Then they pull on their white rubber gloves and step back with eyes full of expectation. Everything in me is dead now except my sense of touch, a skinless receptor pulsing with fear. The high priest of pain walks in wearing his ceremonial costume, white coat, gleaming omniscient metal third eye, inscrutable white mask. So much white in this darkness. The women push the clattering altar of pain closer. My head instinctively pulls itself back as far as my neck will allow, it knows where the pain is about to break in. But my head can't escape, it can only close its eyes, it feels the doctor's knives and forks crack through the bone and search through the brains with a sound of walking through a thick layer of fresh snow... Is this animal a human, is this sick animal a human? The village calls her crazy but the good doctor knows better, there's nothing to worry about, one freak like this you can just laugh at, shocking but harmless, as long as there's only one case and you keep it well isolated, but two freaks brought together and who knows what might happen? The good doctor presses a button somewhere deep inside my brain. My hands grab the armrests of the chair, my feet grow wildly flapping wings, they want to lift me off the ground, an unsingable song is humming in my throat, my eyes are flowing with lust, I let out a belch that smells of roses... The doctor tosses his instruments back onto the altar, irritated crashing of metal on metal, a deep contemptuous sigh. This case is beyond all hope, he announces to everyone except me, diagnosis is rara avis, there's no way I can amputate a soul like this, tangled outgrowths branching out a capite ad calcem and fused straight into the magnus ignotus, you can close this one up now nurse, massive sedation is the only treatment modern medicine has for a case like this, so acta est fabula and of course plaudite... He dumps his bloody rubber gloves into my lap and storms out. The masked women stitch my head shut and release my wrists and ankles. As they're leading me to the door they hand me a prescription for morphine with "overdose highly indicated" scribbled in angry letters.


Hand in hand we enter the big city, escorted by little whirlwinds of dust and litter, the streets festooned with shreds of plastic flapping high in the trees like the fruits of an unidentified life form. We stop by the side of a river that divides the city down the middle and watch a big brown rat foraging through the garbage that's been washed ashore. We sit down and open up a bottle of wine, pour ourselves a glass and scatter out some peanuts on the embankment. The rat sits up to taste the air with his whiskers, hesitates for a moment, then decides it's safe to join us for this unexpected free meal. Can you tell me beloved, why does the city feed its pigeons but poison its rats? Of course, it's for the same reason science uses so many rats and so few pigeons, it's because rats are so much more like us humans... Hand in hand we wander through the streets, through the screaming speed metal noise of big city life, where even weeds like us can find a little crack in the pavement to grow out of. We used to look up at night, in the mountains and even in the village, and we'd see the stars and we'd know, outer space is right here. But in the city there's just too much light and the air is full of poisonous dust and anyway you can't walk around looking up at the sky for too long because every street corner might be hiding a gun or a broken bottle or an infected fist or a fresh dog turd and every face you pass on the street can turn around and stick a knife in your back and even the cars might go insane and pounce straight through the red light to swallow you up...

Duckling down heron's long throat
Thinks not of the light
At the end of the tunnel

The city is crawling with nature, the city is nature itself, like any patch of grass on any summer afternoon, the closer you get the more you see everything trying to murder everything else, biting off a head that's still busy chewing another head, and still no one is ever angry, no one ever shakes a fist to the sky demanding an explanation... And with plants it's no different, it's only slower. Life is war and each species has its own weapons and tactics. This one can run fast. That one has sharp claws. This one can sprout early. That one can grow quicker. Poisonous thorns. Long tentacles. Hard scales. Gripping hands. Flexible brains. All I see I am not. Life.

All words and images copyright 2008 by Vanita & Johanna Monk

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