THE CITY OF LOST THINGS
by Francis X. Altomare
Loose change will escape from my pant pockets into the limbo between sofa cushions, I know it, but this anxiety is an afterthought compared to the urgent whimpers of my work-weary feet. I pour a neat scotch, sip it gingerly, flop onto my weathered couch. The arch of my back yawns along its length. My eyes wander, examine the apartment’s vomit-green wallpaper. I try to avoid my late fiancée’s eyes watching me from the photos nailed along the walls at odd intervals. I must change your color, I say to the wall, it’s sickly. As I consider repainting the living room black, some quarters dimes nickels pennies trickle out, right pocket first, then left. Just when I’m comfortable, my cellphone betrays me and also vanishes into the crevice. Among other things lost.
The cellphone rings, a Shepard’s tone I think it’s called, a falling pitch that in reality never gets any lower, like an aural barber pole. My fingers fish for it between the cushions. I grope nothing but sticky leather. I probe deeper: wrist, elbow, shoulder: I hold my breath, dunk my head into the crease: The suction slurps me clear through.
The cavernous space where I land disorients me. The ground is firm but imperceptible. Fleshy, oddly warm.
Dust bunnies precess through the half-darkness like tumbleweeds. No boundaries or corners. Just the ageless, edgeless dark.
I genuflect, scoop up the coins strewn across the ground like wishes cast into an abandoned fountain. I can tell there is no luck here. Among other things lost.
My cellphone rings again, deeper into the cobweb labyrinth punctuated only by little motes of light flickering like confetti. Frustrated, I gaze upward. A fluorescent sliver stretches across the dimensionless sky through which my apartment may still exist. At least the sofa hasn’t consumed everything yet.
I discover a pair of sun-bleached Ray-bans that slipped overboard on a fishing trip off Bermuda. When I put them on, they do nothing but compound the darkness’s interest. I follow a trail of $888.88 in loose change, mostly pennies worn thin and green by use or worry or wishes or verdigris. A used condom shriveled like a snakeskin litters my path. A joker, a queen of hearts, three dozen paperclips, twenty dried-out ballpoint pens, a fistful of rubber bands. Nondescript miscellany, things misplaced after moving apartments or a break-up. Things relegated to closet floors, unswept corners, junk drawers. In basements or attics or the couch’s cracks, among other things lost:
My father's pocket watch, its hands folded in place to mark the time of his death. Tattered copies of Augustine's City of God and Dante’s Comedy. My passport lifted one spring break in Amsterdam. Three sets of keys. One 1982 Honda Accord, its passenger window smithereened, the interior a rancid latrine. A fifth-grade geography textbook, half the pages missing. Eighty-eight orphaned socks, none matching. Forty-four butane lighters, not one that works.
Then it is there at my feet. Dead, no reception, its screen a blank eye except for a blinking message: 88 missed calls. But the calling number, impossible...
A voice in the blankness, hovering somewhere between laughter and lament.
She doesn’t exactly appear from the shadows so much as emerge from them. Or maybe they emerge from her, I can’t be sure. She is wearing her straw hair loose around her shoulders, the way she wore it that afternoon when I asked her to be my wife. It had been a balmy Caymanian day, under the palm canopy, our bronzed bodies encrusted with sea salt. She is wearing the same summer dress too, my favorite, a pastel that shows just enough shoulder, just enough leg. She wore that same dress again on the last day I’d seen her alive. A Thursday, the hottest on record. A Thursday of wine and dust and broken promises. She had left for work and that was that. Among other things lost.
In the twilight she smiles but remains silent, her grin suspended like a firefly.
You are the only thing I’ve ever really lost, I say.
She doesn’t reply. She plays the part of Eurydice.
Then she presses something into my palm, a cold metal hoop. A ring maybe.
I lost this the week after you were buried, I say.
She shakes her head. As always, she knows I am always lying.
I had hurled it into the sea.
Gusts rattle above us. The crack in the sky begins to quiver, trembling like my knees. It closes, a pair of tired lips. I shudder; there is no ladder, no rope, no exit. Fibers of oblivion knit themselves together, begin to suture the gash of light that was my living room closed. Now only a patch of vomit-green wallpaper, a thin scar barely visible. Among other things lost.
Her face eclipsed. I misplace her image for a moment, struggling to hold her in the algebra of my memory. Only her smile remains steady, that perfect beacon of light.
Then even that vanishes into blindness.
I sense her circling around me in seamless ellipses. I am suspended in embryonic darkness while I repeat it like a mantra, the nickname I used for her on our summer trip to Barcelona: Tiburonita, tiburonita, tiburonita. Her circles grow wider, gyres with no center.
I do not search for an escape, nor do I question her in the dark. I know there are no answers worth the words. Everything has already been said, even this. Our own private little language game.
A cool silence embraces me. I inhale her asphodel perfume lovely, dark, and deep. I beg her to stay with me.
I am afraid of being alone.
I promise never to lose you again, I say.
A caesura—No words will come into this oubliette, nor will they escape this city of lost things.
***The amazing picture above the story, "Solipsism," was also created by Francis X. Altomare. See additional pictures created by Francis below:
"The Mushroom Prince"
Francis X. Altomare’s poetry, fiction, and criticism has appeared in both literary and academic journals. In 2010, he was a finalist for the National Society of Arts and Letters Career Award in Literature. When not abroad treating his chronic bibliophilia, he teaches Theory in South Florida. Visit his site here: Altomare Arts & Sciences.