Cities & Motion
Look at the city of Tailan and you may see a train, but do not be fooled by its thin foundation. Look again and see the public square covered in people: festival tents shading an art exposition, a centuries-old maple trunk that forks and rejoins, voices singing from a far-off temple spire. See the wide boulevards and deep wells. Feel the smoke spout from the coal funnel and blow through the city in the ever-present wind, which the city’s people use to tell direction when they stumble home late at night. Never once have they thought of the thin metal rails, stretching in straight lines to infinity, that hold their city of grass and pavement. That Tailan floats five inches above the ground is the city’s great secret.
The tracks that carry Tailan sometimes meet others, steel lines that run perpendicular, parallel, in turns. And sometimes but rarely, another city will approach rolling on the tracks, thus beginning a trade. Men grab bushels of fruit from the market, furniture from the store, old cows from the field, and rush to the edge for that brief moment when the cities come side-by-side. Hundreds of outstretched arms, half second barters, and the trade is over, the two cities rolling apart to the distance.
If you look closely, you could almost see the outlines of a dining car in the walls of the jail, the hint of overnight cots in the greenhouse beds, the frame of a caboose holding up the tall radio tower. But these are faint; the city has taken hold of whatever used to be and made of it something new.
The residents of Tailan have no memory of how the city began, only that they were raised there by their parents, as their own children will be. They see no tracks, no caboose, no path in the distance, only the city built around them. They have mastered the art of always moving but going nowhere.
A short story in the style of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Full series here.