let me tell you a story that i’m hearing for the first time, about a town on the very top of the known world. up where the thermosphere becomes projection space becomes just space. to give you a working idea of the topography: this town is right on the edge of a giant chasm that separates it from the rest of existence. out there, beyond the chasm, is a red sand desert that goes on endlessly in the daytime and twice as far in the night. the town would be quite remote if not for the set of parallel train tracks that runs out across a green viaduct, serving one inbound and one outbound train every day.
the town is an old-fashioned place. the children wash behind their ears, are seldom seen and never heard. each person knows their own place, and if they do not, they are reminded of it by the mayor, who wears suspenders and a coiffed mustache, and by the greasy warden of the jail. this story, then, must be about two people who refuse to know their place.
i’ll name them – person A and person B. and say that person A and person B are in love. and for some reason their love is forbidden. maybe person A and person B come from different social classes, and they are both women, and thus their union would be a source of displeasure to everyone around them. person A tips her head gently so as not to disturb her fascinator. person B rubs her sweaty hands on the breeches she stole from her brother’s grave. these are the surreptitious gestures by which they must establish their courtship. like romeo and juliet miles below and before them they plan to elope to a place where they can be together freely. they have heard that out in the hinterlands far past the chasm there is a monthly bacchanal where people of any station and gender and proclivity mingle nakedly and freely. perhaps even A and B of such disparate castes, A and B who on their seventh christmases wished, respectively, for – a pet pelican, an orange to share with brother.
person A: call her the mayor’s daughter, proud chatelaine of the house with the pink portico on the main square. and B: the daughter of a criminal in jail. she has begun padding her shoulders and wearing her brother’s breeches when she goes to visit her father, to disguise her gamine form from the warden’s trespassing hands. in the alley which opens up by the pink portico A leaves something for B. a missive. A leaves B a missive in her loopy, well-practiced handwriting. her wooing is exquisite and voluptuous: meet me at 6 tomorrow. we’ll take the last train away from here and they won’t know where we’ve gone and we’ll be together till we perish. but the town gets wind of this plan. not through any indiscretion of A’s; A has been taught by her governess that a lady must always be discreet. then how? suppose B cannot read, so she puts on her breeches and does not wash her hair for six days and goes to the warden: the only person she knows who canread. mistaking B for her dead brother he grins jovially, showing less skin than usual, and obliges her request to dictate back the missive.
alas, alack! cries the mayor the next evening as he bounds into the office of the warden, his most trusted of allies. his waistcoat is undone, his pants hanging loosely around his knees. my daughter has run away! the warden sees the truth of the situation instantly. he dashes from the office to fetch the constable and make the arrest before the mayor has even the chance to collect his mustache from the floor.
i’ve lost our two heroines – let me find them before we continue. ah, there is B, huddling on the train platform. would it not be poignant if she were to board the train before her beloved A arrives? a toot-tootto signal the impending departure, and here is A. for the first time she wheels her own luggage. she wastes valuable time, rummaging for a penny before realizing that there is no porter to tip. and now the moment of confusion! there are two trains leaving the station at 6 today, for all the incoming trains have been rerouted. or maybe there was never an inbound track at all. maybe the only trains the town has ever known are those which are forever receding into the uncharted distance.
the police and the warden descend upon the train station, the mayor waddling behind. A jumps into a carriage and the two trains pull away along the green viaduct. below her, the dark mystery of the chasm. opposite her, the nose of B, pressed to the dirty window of the other train.
i do not know what happened to A or to B or to A’s father or to B’s father or to the lecherous warden for most of their lives, and i do not know what will happen to any of them either. but i imagine that the town is still there, unchanged. and as the trains cross the interminable chasm and the interminable desert beyond, i imagine that A and B realize that there is no hinterlands but this. the dreariness of separation. and yet i imagine too that they maintain a seed of hope that these tracks will meet again; that these worlds, borne away from one another under the night sky, will, say, collide again. for all parallel lines, it’s known, must converge at infinity. all together they vanish, an extinguishing as carnal in the far-out haze as a poem.
and so, sunrise after sunrise, A and B postpone their love for each other till the horizon.
and isn’t that just delightful to think of?