“I vowed I would never live in another city”, he said. “I vowed I was done with their grids and their money. With Wall Street and Christopher Street. With a city built on greed and graft and the pretensions of lineage.”
“Well,” she said. “Then I know a city you can go to that is nothing like that.”
He sat with her in the swank coffee shop as the buses and the taxis roared by.
She said “finish your coffee and close your eyes.”
He thought this was strange but he was used to strange things, and he was used to strange things coming from her – the sister he had who was not a blood relation – or at least he didn’t think she was.
He put his espresso cup down. It was a good brew and it had been finely ground and the water had been extremely hot – the way it needs to be to make a really good espresso. He folded his eyelids down, and tried not to squint through them, which he did when he closed his eyes because he was always rather nervous. He just was. It was who he was and he would never change, probably.
“Imagine,” she said.
“Imagine a tangle of hair. A tangle of ribbons, a tangle of angel hair pasta. How the tangle is always a sort of circle, a wannabe spiral, but there are knots that keep the lines from going around and around there are sub-knots inside, and twists in the yarn or the ribbon or the hair, and spokes sticking out of the knots. Imagine those knots with small spaces and cracks, because that’s why it’s a knot in the first place. There is space for the untangling if you could just insert a needle or a fingernail and then you could make it all straight.”
He shifted in his seat.
“Stay still,” she said. “There’s a beauty to the tangle. An unexpected shape to it, a logic to it, and always a doorway, a garden, a courtyard where a child plays with a doll, and there are levels to it. Imagine there are steps going up and through the knots and the twists.”
Suddenly he saw a child – a little girl in an impossible doorway, a door curved and built into a wall that curved and the little girl was going up the stairs inside and calling Ama? Ama? and she looked at him, not afraid but penetrating, as if he were a well-known and expected visitor. And as he turned he saw a garden filled with roses – like the ones belonging to the woman he loved but whom he could not have – climbing over a wall, and he was going up and then down a – what was it? – a set of stairs and then a path, but it wasn’t a street like he knew streets to be – it was so crooked and winding. Shooting off to either side was a gate to a church – impossible enormous – hulking on the other end of yet another gate, and then steps going down to someplace.
“Imagine,” she said. “A city that is a tangle. A spiral caught in on itself.”
And the thing was: he could not only imagine it. He could smell it, taste it. there was a priest in a long black gown, kissing a woman. What religion was this? And he walked and suddenly he was in a long corridor filled with vendors. And he could smell food, perfume, saw old men sitting in chairs playing chess. And he walked past a tiny storefront selling wooden elephants, and another selling candy, while a boy with a wheelbarrow called out welcome welcome would you like some fruit? Melons, berries? The best the best.
And then again he turned a corner and the street – if you could call it a street – went up and up and up, winding and circling, till he came upon a metal door, and the door had letters on it, but he couldn’t read them, and across from that a jeweler placing necklaces and candlesticks in a window.
Where is the top and where it the bottom? He was breathless he was thirsty. Come in said a woman in a long white robe. Come and drink. He went through the door and walked through her tiny apartment, and ended up on a balcony overlooking countless other balconies and above them the sky – a brilliant pure blue.
Not all cities are based on the urge to conquer through finance. She told him, holding up a glass of tea.
What city is that? he said.
And she said what city do you think?
And he said the name that people dismiss or hate or love.
“Remember your vision,” said his sister, as his espresso cup clattered to the floor. “Seek the city in the city. Seek the tangle. Seek the knots and the impasses. For there only is the real way out. And the real way in.”
He got on a plane that afternoon. His passport was in order. He didn’t need shots.