City of Icons

Two days later, we sat down to eat, and Isabella clubbed me from behind with an extinguisher. I fell to the floor, stunned. She studied my face and said, “Tell me the sequence.”

I closed my eyes. For I could not do that. I shook my head.

Seeing that I was not going to succumb, she lifted the extinguisher above my head while I watched, oddly detached, thinking somewhere in the back of my brain that in this way I would suffer no more.

“Kill me,” I said, “Kill me and put an end to it, please.”

No one wants the story of their lives to go on forever. Death is beautiful because you finally see how things will end.

She waved the extinguisher as you might a wand.

I steeled my jaw and closed my eyes.

“Murderer.” she said.

“I murdered no one except my father.”

“You murdered me. You woke me before my time!”

“I wanted someone to talk to.”

“Tell me the sequence.”

But I could not.

Again, she made as though to burst my brains and again, I steeled my jaws and clamped my eyes.

But seeing that I made no effort to defend myself, or answer, she lowered the extinguisher.

“Murderer,” she said, but without will or conviction, really, and slowly she let drop the extinguisher. Then she put both her hands to her face and began to weep.

How terrible love is, you see? I crawled over to her, reached for her. I put my head in her lap. I knelt before her and kissed her feet, kissed her calves and then kissed her knees. I reached to touch her trembling shoulders, and she looked at me with red-rimmed eyes and tears tracking across her cheeks. I kissed each tear and then kissed her eyelids, turned down. She bowed, unable to move. That night I slept beside her, but when I awoke, I was again in the court, stomach aching and mouth dry and head, pulsing with pain. Somehow, she had drugged me. Ricin, I thought, amputine. I stared at the empty silence of the cell and sighed, realizing now that my limited lifetime was going to end poorly, that Isabella, my beautiful Isabella would seal me here until my expiration.

When she opened the dumb waiter and shoved in the plastic tubes for lunch rations, she had only one question.

“What is the sequence?”

But how could I answer that?

“Isabella, I cannot tell you that. It is not allowed.”

I cannot say how long I stayed in there, whether it was a month or a year. That is how odd things became. But she fed me regularly, and if I counted correctly, assuming three meals per day, I would guess I was in the court for another 35 days. I spent that time remembering the Earth videos and how my father had warned me about the hazards of human behavior.

He said in the days before takeoff that gathering food was a major endeavor, for hunger had become a continuous state.

“May you never know true hunger, my son, my Noah. Not the way the Earth people have.”

Isabella fed me regularly, but she made no extra effort. She asked me for the sequence, I refused, and the dumb waiter was quickly sealed. One day, out of frustration I spoke even after she sealed the dumb waiter. I lied to her.

“Wait Isabella. I’ll tell you the sequence. What do you want? Do you want me to expire? What’s the point here? I know how I happened. I can explain myself. I can explain!”

The dumb waiter slid back open.

“What is the sequence?”

“Let me talk to you, just a little, please. I’ll tell you the sequence, but let me have some time with you. After I tell you the sequence, you’ll kill me anyhow, right? You’ll flush me into the night like some vacuum-borne excrement.”

She did not answer me directly, but only asked, “How did you happen, then?”

“My father ― he let me watch Earth videos.”


“Yes, it’s true.”

“What did you see?”


“You saw the news?”


“The movies, the shows, the books?”

I hesitated, for the truth of seeing those things was embarrassing. They were so blatantly false, so dramatically and technically different from the world in which they were borne, filled with beautiful people, white, shining teeth, perfectly proportioned, happy people. That’s what was so strange; they were all happy or if they were not happy, they always managed to end happy after some perseverance. Prosperity and beauty reigned. They were so like the icons, these movies and shows. I am sure it was they that gave me the first notion of love.

When I said yes, that I had seen the movies, all the life went out of Isabella and finally all the anger then, too. It was as if she understood me at last.

“You were so perfect,” I tried to explain, “I projected everything wonderful and good. I dreamt you were the only thing that I needed for my own happiness. I imagined us in videos, you see?”

“Your father let you see the videos?”


“That’s a crime.”

I shrugged, “He died, anyhow…because of me.”

“Tell me the sequence, Noah.”

I could see her beautiful eyes through the slit in the court’s wall. I saw again how they looked on that icon, Luca, with such favor and on my own features with a coldness to freeze a heart. And I knew that all would be lost.

But I saw Isabella’s trembling expression, and for her, for the slightest twinkling of her affection, I said:

“This is the sequence I know.”


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