Story:

Tears of the Night Like Acid on My Body

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(a sonata)

1.

Lady Luck turns. Turn and turn, whirl and whirl, around and around. She has been dancing since dawn: some six hours now, maybe seven. Soon, the Sun will overpower her, and she will fall down into the sands, to lay there unconsciously until some kind soul passing through the gates of the city takes pity on her and brings her tepid water to drink and fresh fruits to eat.

It won't be long now: already her hands, high above her head at sunrise, are swaying uncertainly, breaking the once perfectly aerodynamical line of her body. Her bare feet fall deeper into the blazing hot sands, more and more awkward each time she turns. Her hair, long and dark and plaited firmly, is getting loose, lashing her face and her back as she whirls on. Soon, she will stumble and fall; soon. Fall and be calm, though not dead, alas. When night comes and cools the desert, she will get up again, having recovered her strength, and she will dance again in the moonlight, almost until the crack of dawn. And then, exhaustion will overtake her again, and she will fall.

Day after day she will dance so, and night after night. Until she dies, which will never happen, not as long as the Sun is hot, the Moon cold, the desert dry and the ocean wet. As long as the city in the desert stands, enchanted as it is. As long as we both shall live. Forever.
Turning and turning, whirling and whirling, around and around, into eternity. The dervish lady, they call her in the city. Lady Luck, I call her. She dances not because she has to, but because she feels she should, of her own free will. Me, I have no choice but to watch her.
For I am the city, and it is in front of my walls that she turns, hoping to win my pardon by showing me her self-inflicted punishment, day after day, night after night. Hoping that my heart will take pity on us all and that I shall resolve the inextricable web that binds us together. But her hopes are in vain: my heart is of good, solid desert-stone, and hearts of stone don't forgive. I could cut the knot, and let us all go. But I won't. Why should I? My heart is of stone, as I've said, and it is she who made me so. So I let her suffer, in her own, tiny, feeble way.

Ah. There: she fell. I don't rejoice when she does; hearts of stone never do. But I'm glad, in my slow, city-like way, for her unconsciousness gives me leisure to observe other things beside her. The merchants, coming from the desert in a single file and winding through my gates, carrying wonders from the world beyond, and tales of even more wonderful things that can be found there. Those tales I know to be true, for I had once lived beyond. But I still find it impossible to believe in it out here, where an aircraft has never ruined the perfect balance of the sky, and cars and televisions and deep freezers simply cannot exist. (Don't think it's a paradise, though; it's stinking, and hard, and cruel, sometimes. I'm no Heaven on Earth, just a city. Enchanted city, all right. But still just a city.) Underneath a myriad of stars. Sometimes.

I don't like it when they come, though. The stars. I don't look at them much, though they're a pretty enough sight, on the black black sky that covers me nights. But that's all they are: a pretty sight. Nothing really attractive about them. Fireworks to fascinate the simple souls. Pretty, pretty toys that make you reach for them with all your might and then reveal themselves as they really are. Faraway, unconcerned suns, deep in the freezing cold of the universe, turning around themselves, uncaring of what passes elsewhere. Just like Lady Luck. Distant, unpleasant things.

Of course, not all stars are distant suns. Some are planets, circling around the same Sun as we do, stealing its light and pretending to be something they aren't. I would hate them, I suppose, if I had any hatred left in me. But I don't. Just the yearning, the wish, the desire. My heart of stone would weep because of them if it could. Trouble is, hearts of stone don't weep. So I don't, either, and I don't hate the planets for their stolen splendour. I don't even hate the stars.

And there are two stars, deep down on the very end of the horizon, that are neither suns nor planets. You cannot see them from any other spot but from where I look. And even from here, they aren't always easy to find. Sometimes, a fine mist, finer even than the filigrees my artists trade for goods from faraway lands, covers them. Sometimes they turn dark, like eyes closing in pain, and it's only a distant tremor of possible light that I can distinguish. Those two stars are the ones I most look at, when I look at them at all, even though they leave me in anguish, even though their light leaves burning traces of pain all over my stone body. Those two stars are the eyes of the night. My lover's eyes.

 

2.


My lover, the night, with stars that sometimes cry mist at pre-dawn hours for eyes. My lover, the night, who wasn't always the night, bodiless and widespread and possessed only of star-like eyes. Oh, he held a body once, rest assured of that. Though, sometimes, he made love to me without it, like the spring wind embracing the fresh fragrance of blossoming fruits, or like the image of the skies in a summer night, high above me, reflected in my blind spots.
That was when I was human still, not yet a city. And what my lover was, I didn't know then, any more than I do now, but I never wondered about it anyway. He could have been a demon, perhaps, or a devil, something like that. It didn't matter.

Simply, one day, he came. Through an open window. Just like that. One moment the sky was blue, the autumn young and the traffic quiet. And then he was there before me, his body still uncertain, looking at me with dark, night-dark eyes.

At first, I was afraid. He was a creature of the night, it was easy to see that, and he frightened me. I couldn't move, he did something to me and, surprisingly, I stopped panicking and frowned instead, trying to focus properly, as his form shivered in the breeze. I frowned and screwed my eyes, and so did he. I laughed uncertainly, and he repeated the sound, not completely successfully. His body stopped shaking, and he looked me over carefully. He cut my clothes in half with a burning tip of his finger. He looked at me for a long time, and then he kneeled before me, touching his cold cheek lightly to my belly.

I had a vague idea it would be blood he'd be after, but it wasn't. He made me keep still, looking at me from all sides, touching me here and there in an uncertain, almost childlike manner, repeating wordlessly I shouldn't be afraid. His lines shivered again as he kept on examining me. He showed my body, then his own, half-formed and in one piece with the clothes he was wearing. I understood, and tried to explain. We talked, not in words but talked all the same. Slowly, I understood.

I had thought he would ask my life, and was for some reason ready to give it, without fear. Only, he didn't want it. What he wanted was to learn. He wanted me to teach him. To teach him life, simply and purely. And so I did.

I taught him to talk, first of all, to use his throat for speech. After that, I taught him everything I could think of. To dance. To laugh. To cry. To feel good, and to feel bad. To make me feel all those things. I taught him to get angry, and to make me angry, and after we had had a good sound quarrel, I taught him to kiss and make up. Literally, I mean: I had to teach him kissing. He knew about touching, understood about caressing, but tried to lick me as I bent to kiss him.

So I taught him to make love, too. He was totally inexperienced, unable to understand the half-realised sensations he could see in me, feel vaguely in himself. So we switched bodies. That is, he switched them. I found myself touching my own skin with his long fingers, feeling the rising response in my own body, teaching his body to feel the same. So he understood. So we made love.

After that, I taught him to eat, and to drink. I taught him to smoke, and to feel distantly guilty about it. And I tried to teach him to yearn for something more substantial than cold water to wash the dinner off, but I failed. He inquired about alcohol, I explained, he produced it. The yearning, that was the one thing he couldn't understand, no matter how hard I tried.
I mentioned flying, we were miles up above the sleeping city. I mentioned distant places, we went there. I mentioned galaxies far away, we visited them and they were dull, after all. There wasn't an ocean too wide, a particle too small, there wasn't anything that we couldn't see, touch, be. Suddenly, I found myself voicing the wildest ideas I had ever had, and he fulfilled them all. I was a cat, and a cloud, and I saw the diamond in the heart of Jupiter. I was the spring of all mankind, and I saw Northern gods fight their final battle in the rage of Ragnarok. But yearning I couldn't teach him.

I tried philosophy, but that failed too. I tried death next.

"What's that?" he asked. I laughed. So did he. Then I cried.

"Forget about it," I said finally. "Yearning you'll never understand. Learn to live with it."

He did. And how. It was too good to last. It didn't. But, whatever came afterwards, it was worth it. Anything was worth teaching him to stay up all night and feel delightfully dizzy all day afterwards, or showing him how to haggle with an old second-hand shop owner, just to buy a false-stones necklace he didn't want in the first place.

And after a while, he started teaching me things, too. He taught me to make fire with my breath alone, and then extinguish it with a chuckle. I taught him to spend a Sunday on the couch, watching black and white films. He taught me to create entire worlds so tiny I could hold them in the palm of my hand. I showed him the colourless eyes of the cars that run over highways at night. He showed me the red burning eyes of souls that howl beneath wet stones of hidden springs. I showed him ancient marbles and golden trinkets, reaching out towards eternity and perishing helplessly not halfway there, with all their sacred splendour. And he showed me the eternity itself, pure and simple, clear and deceptively close, like a song of a whale. The world was ours, this and many others. And then, suddenly, the worlds came to an end.

He had a master, or maybe a code that ruled him, I was never sure. There was something. So one day he came with trembling hands and flung himself onto my bed without a word. I was petrified. I hadn't taught him despair. He learned that by himself.
I made him talk, and he did his best to explain, but he couldn't.

"It is time," was all he could repeat, over and over again. "It is time. I have to make the choice."

"Choice of what? To decide what?"

"What to do."

"And what are the choices?"

"I can leave you forever, doomed in advance. Or I can take you with me." He averted his eyes and added in a whisper: "I learned what death is."

"I see," I said, but I was lying. I didn't see anything but that he was terrified of whatever it was before him.

"Don't you... want to take me with you?" I asked cautiously.

"NO!"

It was a scream that reminded me of the wild thing I had tamed. I dared not even sigh. I knew what I felt... but I had taught him only how to feel, not what. It wasn't up to me to decide him. He turned to me and shook his head helplessly.

"You don't understand. If I leave you, you shall age and die and go where I cannot follow, but you'll never forget me, nor I you. But to take you with me, I would have to..." He swallowed, hard. "I would have to devour you."

"Devour?"

"Eat," he added in explanation. I pondered a moment.

"All right," I said suddenly, afraid of my own words. "Go ahead. Eat me."

"Literally," he said softly. "Alive."

I wanted to say something, to shout, laugh, disbelieve him. I couldn't. Suddenly, his fists clenched on my wrists. Without a word, he took me away.

 

3.


We ran into the arms of the night, and hid there for a while. For months, we were nothing but eerie lights, flickering faintly in forgotten graveyards, in the short moment between night and dawn. But not even night can hide its secrets forever, and we had to run again. Behind battered chimneys at dusk, and in the folds of never-worn wedding gowns until sunrise. And then, from the reflection of the Sun in the early morning puddle, up to the cooing voices of birds, nesting in abandoned attics. On and on we flew, always running, always hiding. Not even water-lilies knew our names any more, and finally we lost them for good, left them behind us like too conspicuous pieces of clothing, once splendid, now battered and useless and slightly ridiculous. We didn't need names, anyway.

And then he found a solution. Or so we believed.

Nothing was beyond his reach, as I have said. So he took us both to the city in the desert, the city that has stood underneath a myriad of stars, never found, for countless ages. The enchanted city that was herself alive, the city of the impossible, inhabited by harmless merchants that traded with the outer world, and by incredible creatures such as we were. And there we hid.

For a while, all was good. The city such as that cannot be reached easily by any creature, and it was a stroke of blind luck or maybe the unusual force that had driven my lover in search of it that made it possible for us to find it at the first try. But if it was luck, it deserted us fast enough.

For the city was alive, and to make it alive it needed a soul, and that soul was old, and tired of being a city and wanted change, and power, and freedom to be what it once has been. So the city betrayed us to whoever it was in search of us.

There was a fight, I suppose. That is the one thing I can never remember properly, or maybe there isn't anything to remember, not really. However, suddenly, there we were. We had dared deny the world its due, and now it was time to pay for the impertinence.

My lover was captured and made to fulfil his duty. In penance, his body was taken, devoured by the thing that had hunted us down, and his remnants turned into the night. The traitress was freed, true, but given back all her former feelings as well as a body. She had been hiding us for long months, had been our friend. So now, she is haunted by guilt at the horror of her deed, and dances in front of my gates, day and night.

And me. After I died in my lover's mouth, I was given to the city, to keep it alive. I had taught living once, now I have to carry it out for myself. And my penitence is the knowledge, bitter and deep at the bottoms of my foundations, that it is my forgiveness that could resolve the situation, free us all from the eternal, unbreakable bonds that keep us here.

But my heart is of stone, and hearts of stone don't forgive, even when they want to. Which I don't. So there's no way out, really.

My lover comes slowly. Soon, the sky will become his, will become him. And like every night, he will reach out to me with his bodiless hands and cry on my walls, the distant tears that have to span universes in order to reach me and leave burning traces like acid on my body. I shall try to whisper comforting words over the empty air, and my words will never be heard, for night has no ears, just like cities are mouthless. And yet, he will know, just as I do. But nights are desperately short, out here in the desert.

Lady Luck stirs on the slowly cooling sands, coming back to her senses and readying to begin another tiring night of turning and turning, whirling and whirling, around and around. Her movements distract me from my lover's eyes, the vortex of her pain forces me to focus on it, forgetting even my own. How unfair, I sometimes think. Sometimes, I'm grateful for something to remove my eyeless gaze from the two stars, low on the horizon, that call me and call me and I cannot answer them.

Turning and turning, whirling and whirling, around and around. Just like the night circles around the Earth, reaching for the one city where it never penetrates and can only observe it from afar. Quickly, too quickly, Lady Luck falls down. Soon, too soon I am to part with my lover. The horizon betrays him like it does every morning, exchanging the soft arms of darkness for the vulgar brightness of the day. And I stand immobile, the city underneath a myriad of stars.