Cities & Memory 3: Leah

I know Zaira. She tends bar on Saturday nights. She is perfection to every man and woman that see her. But good luck getting inside.

“I’m going to crack her. Watch me,” says Rick, a regular who once pushed Zaira and I together so our chests collided — enough to satisfy his next trip to the men’s room.

“Yeah, good luck,” I say. “No one cracks Zaira.”

Everyone knows her. But no one can touch her. She is streets rising like stairways. She is the height of a lamppost and the distance from the ground of a hanged usurper’s swaying feet. She is a fortress. And I wonder how she came to be. An oasis in a hall of haggard longshoremen, locked behind golden gates.

But if you look close enough, you can see it: Zaira’s past, written on her lips, pale, full, and slick. Written in the degree of the arcade’s curves — curves she didn’t pay for.

She holds them all, the memories from the beginning, all the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls. She holds them all under her perfect surface streets, too steep for you to climb.

Thin Cities 2: Emily

Zenobia stands on high pilings. She is the woman at the bar with her girlfriends, laughing. Not the prettiest one, no. You wouldn’t go for the prettiest one. You want Zenobia. She is your vision of a happy life.

It is always a city like Zenobia that you imagine, with her pilings and suspended stairways. In her you will find your big house and beautifully manicured lawn, the source of the neighbors’ secret hatred. She is the wife on your arm at a business affair, aflutter with banners and ribbons that announce to all, this is my happy life, this is what I earned.

But you walk past Zenobia and all of the champagne anniversary toasts and take a seat at the end of the bar, settling on the woman sitting alone, the one that’s been waiting for you.

Thin Cities 4: Natasha

Sophronia never turns down a shot. You wince at Jack, a cold, white, and porcelain memory from your undergrad years. But not Sophronia. She knows how to throw it back. And you are drawn to her like a child to cotton candy. She is the great roller coaster with its steep humps, the Ferris wheel of spinning cages, the death-ride with crouching motorcyclists, the big top with the clump of trapezes hanging in the middle. And you want to stay forever and run under the golden lights strung from booth to booth.

But that is only one half of Sophronia. The carnival will pack up and leave. Empty popcorn boxes and torn ticket stubs blow across your shiny shoes. The other Sophronia will fill the empty lot; she is stone and marble and cement. She is the docks, the petroleum refinery, the hospital, in a city you never wanted to visit. You open your mouth wide and wonder how it happened so fast, the shout suspended from the cart of the headlong roller coaster.

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