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BACK TO MY STORIES

1. The Empty City

   There is little information available on the city. We are given some dimensions—so many miles from city limit to city limit—but the information is suspect. Some buildings are given names, like the Cortez Palace, and of course each subway station has a number, and sometimes a title. These, however, are not always in common use, and thus are of little help. We have heard it said that the streets in the northwest quadrant are laid out in a grid, but our investigations there have failed to discover one: serpentine streets, in the northwest, twist around a series of small lakes. In the south there is a grid-like section, but it is not extensive, and seems marked, in any case, for removal. There is, of course, the Victoria Museum, and the Opera House nearby, which serve as landmarks, surrounded by lawns and great swaths of flowers. Later, if given a chance, we may find the goddess strolling there. She walks tilted on her six-inch heels. If she wears her mauve dress—it is well-known in the city—she decorates her eyes with plum shadow, her lips with plum lipstick, her cheeks with plum rouge. Her stockings are sheer, back-seamed. In the diffuse sunlight of a late afternoon she drifts, shadowless, from banks of peonies to tiers of roses. It is remarked that the lips deep within her legs are plum colored also. They are as glossy with viscous fluid as the lips on her face, and like the lips on her face, are slightly parted.

2. The Stockyard

   It is believed—we ourselves believe it—that the goddess once bred with bulls. This took place in a stockyard in the eastern section of the city. The yard today lies in ruins. The shed itself, where the couplings occurred, has partially collapsed. There is the smell of dung in the air, and hay dampened by the copious amounts of urine left by the bulls. There is nothing in particular to mark the site. Perhaps there is a stain—it looks like blood—on the waist-high bench over which she bent herself. Are those hoof marks on the wood? The sun, rising in the east, turns the straw to gold. According to our informants she gave birth to deformed creatures. We may call them demigods. Some of them lived for several days, horn-headed and sleek-thighed, hoofed feet, bullish nostrils. They emerged, covered with slime, from between her legs. She licked them clean, as a mother would. Her hair, stringy with sweat, half covered her face. Her nipples distended, each the size and color of a ripe plum. The newborn animals moaned. They came out of her, one after another. The bulls, great shaggy beasts, loitered nearby. The goddess growled, she snarled, she purred, ejecting progeny into the straw around her.
   She walked, afterwards, along the gray river. The muddy slopes stank of oil. Garbage floated in the water. She spat between her teeth, passing naked the brick warehouses and shabby tenements of the east side. Her flanks were covered with straw and blood, urine and afterbirth. Animals watched her: ferrets, weasels, lurking cats. Pausing at a window she used her reflection to heighten, with blood, the color of her cheeks. Her lips already were black—she had bitten them savagely during her labors. A bit of mud she put around her eyes. Pigeon feathers, dove feathers, feathers from an eagle she stuck into her hair. Sometimes, as she walked, she trembled, and nearly fell. The skin of her back was rubbed raw. The bulls had mounted her from behind, and their underbellies had fur like wire bristles. She had used both hands to guide their erect members into her. She led them, each of them, into her orifice. Only a goddess could do this. She took a foot, two feet, the entire length of each cock. The animals had bellowed, thrusting against her. Their front hooves flailed in the air. Sometimes they kicked her. Her face was bruised—blood ran down her neck. Each bull deposited a quart or more of semen into her. After each coupling semen spilled from her open cunt, like water gushing from a faucet. The goddess, legs stiffly spread, leaned over her bench and received each bull. At last she crawled off into the straw. It was there, during the night, under a full moon, that her belly swelled to gigantic proportions. The beasts paced around the shed, mewling and pawing. In the morning she began labor. Not once did she cry out. Blood, not sweat, sprang from her skin, but she made no cries. Cattle bellowed, not she. At noon she started giving birth. The creatures came from her, some stillborn, some kicking.
   The progeny died. Some lived two days, even three. She licked all of them, dead or alive. After three days she left. She walked along the gray river. She used her own blood to paint her face. No one saw her. In those days the city already was nearly deserted. Animals saw her: ferrets and weasels. In the Cortez Palace she leaned over her balcony. The afternoon sun struck her raw body.

3. The Railroad Station

   She slipped her legs into her stockings. She pulled them on over her bloody thighs. The shoes she selected were blood-red too, pumps with narrow six-inch heels. Thus attired she descended once more into the city. She walked the streets. As she passed her reflection in a plate glass window she began to dream. She dreamed of a man and a tiger. She was the tiger. The man stalked her through the city. It is not possible to say how much pleasure she took in this pursuit, but it is clear that she prolonged it. Nearly naked, in her clawed feet—that is, in her spike-heeled shoes—she came to the railroad station. Cavernous sheds for the locomotives blocked the sunlight. She crouched behind a drainpipe. Although she had been moving, perhaps even running, for some distance, she was neither flushed nor perspiring. She scarcely breathed. One could see, perhaps, her belly expanding and contracting between her hipbones. The man slid by, alert. He carried, as though it were a weapon, a camera with a giant lens. Anger had glazed his eyes. The goddess—the tiger—pressed her belly against the cold drainpipe. Then she slipped through a sheet metal door, into the station.
   She dreamed he followed her. It was cold inside. She could hear his breathing and the heavy falling of his feet. Within the building light glowed from lamps hanging far overhead. With extended claws she touched her thighs, where the blood had coagulated. Then she remembered the man’s pursuit. By then, clumsily, he had run past her and now was lost among the locomotives, his camera dangling uselessly at his side. The building rang with his curses. She walked on top of the locomotives, passing vents and complicated pipes and iron bells. She leaped from carriage to carriage. She crouched just above him. Her fingernails—her red-lacquered nails—slid even further from their sheaths. The man looked up in horror. He tried to bring his camera to bear. She ended the dream.

4. The Victoria Museum

   Outside, a light rain was falling. It was not enough to wash the blood from her thighs.
   The Victoria Museum was not far away. She walked towards it. As she walked, the city rearranged itself. In the far corners new buildings were erected, old ones demolished. A road, which for decades had run straight, now curled around a small lake. Elsewhere animals left their quarters. New creatures replaced them. Later they will be named.
   She sat in the garden, on a concrete bench. She crossed her legs at the ankles. The light rain fell on her. The photographer, she imagined, she dreamed, was roaming within the museum itself. Everything there was dry. There was even heat, provided by gas burners which, historically, were never turned off. She listened to him—or imagined listening to him—as he blundered down the long corridors. He came to an iron mask. He put it on. It fit his face perfectly. Peering through the slitted eyeholes, he saw an iron-weave vest. This, too, he put on. It fastened at his shoulders. It would protect him from unnamed dangers. Perhaps it would protect him from tigers. He found leggings, also of iron, a groin piece, and articulated gloves. Thus garbed he moved even more cautiously than before. Perhaps his defense increased his danger. The goddess, in the garden, sitting next to a bush full of rose blossoms, yawned into her hand. She watched her nails extend to their full length, and then retract. Her body, bare though it was, seemed invulnerable. The man selected a mace, with its studded iron ball, and a leather shield. There was hardly anything left of him—hardly anything visible. He was all black metal and silver-studded leather. He continued down corridors, past ancient pottery, some of it in shards, and illustrated books from the 13th Century. At this point, had he peered through a certain window, he would have seen the goddess at her bench. Instead he prowled past silver exhibits, all handsomely mounted, and paintings by old masters. The goddess crossed her legs at the knee. The nylon surfaces flashed even in this dim light. Then she stood up. By the time the man descended the stairs and went outside, the goddess was no longer there for him to see.

5. The Balcony of the Cortez Palace

   The goddess sat in her pearl bathtub, high in the Cortez Palace. The water turned red around her. Her skin turned white.
   Elsewhere the man raced through the streets. If she was listening, she might have heard his angry shouts, and the sound of his mace crashing against the walls of buildings. She lay in the tub. The bloody water swirled down the drain. Soon she rose. Through the window was visible the waning moon. Night had fallen. She stood in her pearl room, and removed every trace of color from her face and body. She dusted herself with a white powder. When she painted her face, she used shades of white, perhaps a little gray. We can imagine her white lips. Her long nails, half-sheathed, looked like mother-of-pearl. We are certain her body hair was gone. Somehow she had removed it. Even the lips below her abdomen, the lips that opened and closed with her legs, had turned white. She pulled on white stockings. These were made of silk. Her shoes had open toes. As she moved through her pearl room only her eyes and hair were black.
   She perched on the balcony. She hooked her shoes, like claws, over the railing. She squatted, elbows at her sides. Her eyes saw everything—every movement far below. She saw the man. He was lit by the waning moon and the dim glow of the streetlamps. He was still garbed in black, protected by his segmented and buckled pieces of armor, mask in place, mace swinging overhead. Her face and eyes moved in jerks, following him. She could have spread her arms and flown—glided—to the street where he ran. As a goddess she was capable of flight. She did not stir, however, except for her darting eyes, the jerking movements of her head. We are certain of that. She remained in place. The man raged below. If we are certain of anything, we are certain of that.

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NOTES: The date of this story (and its companion, "Nightlife in the City Resplendent") is ambiguous. I began it as a novel in the late 1970s, while living in London. It is one of several novels that I began, but which slammed to a halt after just a few chapters. I fretted and stewed over the manuscript for years. Finally, in Mexico, I tore it apart and found a way to make it into a couple of stories. Arguably, my new novel, Evidence of a Lost City, is a descendent of this aborted novel. This work was an attempt to combine Jungian archetypes, dreams, and myth into a modern story. As my new novel will attest, this remains a fascinating topic for me.



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