City of White
by Shannon Gibney
The city was never organized in any systematic, preconceived manner. Rather, it was like the warehouses, the train tracks, the confectionaries, the picket fences, just sprang up or laid down – almost of their own accord. Things crashed into each other, a rusting ball of barbed wire cradled a half-empty barrel of gasoline. A bucket of oats tipped over into a well. Bottles, thread, discarded skin, dead leaves, bean stalks, rotting branches covered every inch of ground, leading Linus to wonder at times, if the ground even really existed underneath it all.
All of this disorganization and rubbish led many a visitor to claim that it wasn’t really a city, per se, but more like a town. “Cities have bus routes, bustling financial sectors. They have discrete, particular neighborhoods, each one with its own flavour, its own cuisine, its own ethnic and cultural blends,” a mayor from a major U.S. city in the Northeast was quoted as saying in the city’s largest metropolitan newspaper once. “What the hell does this have?” He had, apparently, clutched at his pockets haphazardly, surprising himself at the boldness, the vitriol embedded in his statements. “I see nothing here. Nothing.” The man’s political career had been something of a fluke anyway, having been elected by a junta of business leaders who saw him as a means to secure votes from the major U.S. city in the Northeast’s permanent brown underclass, all under the guise of a neoliberal, “postracial” agenda…but after these last few remarks, his fate was sealed. The business leaders read in them the unbridled fear, the inability to play the game, that was required of the slippery, but not yet savvy, brown mayor. Years later, smoking his daily cigar in his cavernous leather chair behind his glimmering, cherry-stained desk at the insurance company he owned, this man would recall the whole incident reluctantly, as one recalls an unpleasant dinner at the in-laws, or an especially brutal photograph of a war on the other side of the world. He would hear the words falling out of his mouth again, but more, the weighty and inexplicable sense of doom that pervaded everything around him in the city, and a howling emptiness would scratch his brain. He could turn on the TV, make himself a stiff drink, but it wouldn’t matter – the city, the town, the whatever would make itself known again, and the ground would start moving under him again, he would swear, and he would not know who or what he was. That was it, that was the power of the place, everyone knew it, but no one actually said it. That had been the man’s unforgivable error: he had dared mention what saw, what was at the heart of the place. Nothing.
“That is the difference,” Linus thought, walking the endless line of the town, “Between us and them. Being here is enough. No need to explain it.” He waded through the collapsed walls of the paper factory, now strewn across the highway, and peered up at the blinding white of the crooked windmill. That was the other thing they couldn’t stand: The whiteness of everything. Everything was white. That and the line that was the sole organizing principle of the city. Even though all the houses (if you could call them that), half the horse corrals, the waste management facility were all mashed up together, none of them – in fact nothing in the town – extended beyond a 125-mile long line that was approximately 36 feet wide. There was no reason why. It was just like nuclear armament and human arrogance: that was just the way it was.
Linus turned right, so that he was at the edge of Mabel’s Fairgrounds. An old, decrepit ferris wheel made its way round and round, an oblong oval in the sky. And the bumper cars really smashed into each other now, the padding having worn off sides a long time ago. Still, Linus was not alone in his love of the park. It was a Monday afternoon, and yet all of the rides were peppered with folk. All around them, every day of their lives, the vibrant colors and contours of the expansive world outside their city beckoned to them, yet few left. A seat on the slowly spinning wheel, or the chance to ram a neighbour under the guise of fun were delights enough.
“Linus!” Mabel said, lumbering up to him. She was a large woman, with an even larger penchant for entertainment. “The fair ain’t been the same without you.” Linus shrugged; it couldn’t be helped. He had had to help his sisters with the potato crop.
“Gotta eat,” he said, and Mabel nodded.
“City done knocked itself out this season, trying to push up them potatoes that weren’t coming,” she said. She hooked her flabby arm into his, and half-walked, half-dragged him to his favourite ride, the concave rollercoaster.
“They’re coming,” Linus said sullenly. Peering at the metal rods holding up the coaster tracks, you could see the paint peeling, to reveal a newer, richer shade a white underneath. It was comforting.
Mabel winked at him. She knew she would bed him later.
For his part, Linus had grown tired of her thick, yielding body long ago, but what other way was there to pass the time?
He stepped into the coaster carriage, and got comfortable. “I’m ready,” he said, “To go nowhere,” she was thinking, but she leaned over to strap him in. She wanted to give him something to think about for later.
Linus sighed, momentarily sick of the familiarity of it all. There were times, he had to admit, when the lure of the glimmering world outside of the thin white line of their existence beckoned to him, when his own longing to go there and understand was a rock lodged in his throat, when he could not breathe. But then, as the carriage slowly climbed the first hill, he closed his eyes, and did not look at the fifteen shades of green floating in the needles of the fur trees to the east, the cascading blue of the river to the west. He acknowledged their presence, but let them go. He felt Mabel’s lips on his navel, her tongue between linen and skin. Warmth, heat, and light. Then there was only the rush of wind in his ears, until the thin white line of his body and the landscape bled into each other, and were one.