Pavement. Buildings. Windows like vast blinking eyes. For a moment he is lost in the unfamiliar labyrinth, adrift amid swirling echoes of stone and metal, a heaving pulse of people, like blood cells at microscopic scale. (I was a scientist.) He turns in a circle, staring up through a slowly spinning gun sight of white stone smudged with black, into God's wide open face. (Do I believe in Heaven?)
"Tourist," someone says in passing.
"Have you seen my daughter?" he yells after them. She should be here. She should be walking with him through this city. (Does it have a name?)
Her hand grips his. Her fingers are small. (She's eight). "Remember when we walked in Denver?" she says.
"Of course I do." Denver was jagged skyscraper peaks on the verge of breaking through organic constraint to overrun the wrinkled suburban plane. In the distance, blue mountains capped white.
"Did you take your medicine?"
"Yes," he says. (I think so). A brain cratered black. (Is that me?)
"Houston?" she says. Her fingers are longer now. He feels their nails, her nails. (She's twelve)
"We walked the inner loop," he says. It was not easy without sidewalks. Houston was an aborted dream, plans gone awry under stress. Loop after loop it was supposed to be, but the cars came too soon, the skyscrapers too fast.
"Remember the armadillo?" And she giggles in just the way he recalls her giggling as the armored creature scuttled from the bushes, trailing a fragrance like spoiled meat.
San Francisco was colors, the Painted Ladies and deep blue sea, the roller coaster hills. They walked in morning. (All those steps!) He glimpses her in purple robes, a strange flat hat with a flopping tassel. (Mortarboard.)
"Can we visit the Golden Gate Bridge, Daddy? I've always wanted." A part of him opens up. His chest warms and flutters. Her eyes, so thirsty to see the world around her, a mind that would never fill up, never go empty. (Like mine?) A sudden chill grips him. He tries to remember her name. (Carla. No, that was her mother's.)
Where is she? She should be here, walking with him through the city. (Does it have a name?)
Pittsburgh had hills, and winding, dipping blacktopped roads, and bricks and cement, even gravel. They never knew where they were in Pittsburgh, every step an adventure. (Like now?)
"Point Park is the confluence of the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio River, Pap-pap." It's not his daughter's voice. Was there someone else? He squints at passing faces that give away nothing.
Damascus. Squat cookie-cutter buildings, limestone hotels lined block upon block. Laundry hung on balconies, a skirt-suited woman stumbled through a maze of careening cars, goats, horses, briefcase in hand. (And gold) So much gold. Shops littered with gold watches and chains and necklaces, gilded smiles. Broken English. "Fifty American. Fifty, you understand?" His daughter was not in Damascus. He walked alone.
(She's not here either.)
Frantic, he whirls, straining to make sense of the sandstorm of passing faces. She's not there. Buildings press down until he cannot breathe.
Ahead, the street opens onto a broad intersection. There are no buildings on the opposite side, only trees and sky. He can breathe there. Mouth open, he dashes for the intersection.
Tires screech. A horn blares. Then he's scrabbling on his knees across grass. Trees envelope him. Shade blocks the sun. He wants to lie down and curl into a ball.
"Don't be a sillyhead," she says. He glimpses movement, long legs, the white line on her knee from when the training wheels failed. He tries to call out. (Carla? Karen? William?) What comes out is a mash of syllables. He struggles to his feet.
The trees end abruptly. He hears water and looks toward the sound. Sidewalk surrounds a low structure, the sides formed of slanting black stone. He staggers over. It's a rectangular hole. Water flows from all four sides into a rectangular pit.
A woman leans onto the slanted stone. (An obtuse angle is greater than ninety degrees) There are names in the stone. He feels rescued. Touching the stone, he searches for his daughter's name or even his own. (Alexander Driscoll, PhD) These names make no sense to him.
"Have you seen my daughter?" he asks the woman. "We're walking in the city."
The woman's turns. He has a kind face. "What is her name? What is she wearing?"
He turns back to the water, the steady hiss, the gold dust glint of sunlight. Transfixed, he watches the laminar flow slip down, down, down into that insatiable depth.
published 25 May 2012