The City on the Edge of Forever

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The City on the Edge of Forever

History is allowed to play out in its usual way, war, executions, bodies ragged under concrete, hollowed in the incinerator, starved in the woods, crumpled in graves. History is allowed to play out in its usual way, no one knows what to say, the olive orchard changes hands in a manner that is half-transaction, half-force. Children are dead or missing, or detained. Oh Edith, your ashen hair, your lively eyes.

On Monday my mother calls, having sent an article about how it is appropriate to have children during this extinction event, never mind the flames at my west side, high tides at my east. I can’t imagine loving something that much and condemning it to die of thirst, I tell my mother. She thinks this is absurd, and listening to the music of her desire, for a minute it does seem absurd. Doesn’t humanity go on? Am I not here in a room resplendent with electricity, running water, several cans of soup, not to mention ice cream and half a bottle of gin in the freezer? She says, don’t you want a child to advance your worldview, bring in socialism, fight for the workers, bear out your victories, steer the planet back into its infinite, verdant groove, its correct course around the sun, forever? Oh Edith, your pacifist politics, your settlement-house smile.

What responsibility, I say. I know that I would buckle first under that expectation and then under the heat, the dryness, the ten plagues: dengue, ebola, malaria, smallpox, the flu, cholera, the black death, zombi-ism, other people, the silence of the void. My mother gets angry. Selfishness, she says, to think that you alone stand between our family, who knows how many near escapes when we were slaves in Egypt, when we were lost in the desert, when we were sick in the tulip-rich meadows of the old country and nursed back to health by the mysterious grace of g-d, when we walked out of the camps, when I was hit on my bicycle in 1985 in front of the art museum by a city bus and limped home and lived, and now you tell me you’ll put us to death with your fear of the future? Oh Edith, you didn’t limp away, the impact was different, the speed, different.

Mama, I say, I am young, give me some years of fretting. This she can concede. But who spins a top just for the hell of it, flips a coin just for the hell of it? Who but the rich and the sycophantic can see the drain sucking us around and around, drawing us closer to its rusty ring, its silent scream, and deny the inevitability? When we hang up, I run down the stairs, damn the downstairs neighbors, and out into the cold, clear air and over the crisp beautiful yellow leaves in the gutters and past the men that live in the park by the mysterious grace, wrath, ignorance, or blunder of g-d, and keep running through the glorious world until I am in the arms of someone I love, who, though not one of the chosen people, would go over just fine with my mother, and I say to him that I can understand why people want biological children and that if I could go back to any time in my life it would be twelve years old on the corner of 45th and Baltimore with my best friend and that we are all mistakes of time and that perhaps our generation is the penultimate one and perhaps I will lay down between my family’s miraculous survival and the end of time like Edith lay in the road, and he says to me that maybe in another timeline we are all safe, happy, and if not infinite, then at least ongoing.


Photo used under CC.



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Susannah Maltz has work in the Jellyfish Review, South Dakota Review, wigleaf, and elsewhere. She lives in Washington, DC.

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