“The first to arrive could not understand what drew these people to Zobeide, this ugly city, this trap.”
~ Italo Calvino
In the lingering Erotic City of Ghosts no one does laundry. They do not do laundry because ghosts do not sweat. Night turns into day—and day to night. The citizens can appear at any hour—and time travels like a star. Lust in a shade of crimson roams and conquers. The horizon is majestic. What do you see? There is no use in saying you might refuse to look. The city refuses all who fail to come.
That type does not exist. Everyone looks. Even the blind.
As in the history of any city, the city grows but does not shrink. Look, look there. Through that low-E, dual-pane picture window there is a girl in tights, in a red leotard, lifting her leg up to the sky. Her thigh meets her cheek in an intimate slide. She lowers her lashes and smiles. In the sun, her hair is auburn flecked with gold. She continues at the barre, dancing for you.
Beside her house, there is an apartment complex wherein a man peers heavily at a book the size of a small dog. Note his curling black hair, his quizzical expression, the wrinkles on his forehead when he raises his furred brow. He has asked you a question—did you hear him? I think he said, “Shall we retreat into the b—“ but a clamoring begins. No, it is a clapping. It is a reaction to a dramatic performance. Someone offers flowers. Someone whispers, “You were unbelievable.” Someone’s hands slip into your jeans afterward, from behind, not moving much, just cradling the flesh above your ass, warm and unassailable in their mission, which is to hold.
Perhaps it is a teenager with a bracelet, standing in front of a library. He holds out this bracelet and earnestly entreats. He wants something. A promise of forever. He is a ghost who does not yet know what forever means. If he did, he would not ask.
This city has twelve libraries. The people are learned. This might be my city. Something in each of them appeals.
Surely, always, there is a rough part of town. This is the place where you may watch the bodies of athletes contort as their forms glide over an asphalt court. A ball bounces and rolls into a wire-grid fence. This is the place where ghost sheets are dirty and the bills are ignored, cars oxidize and small children wear shoes the price of fancy meals—a place where you fail to fit in but remember having enjoyed visits from time to time. “Whatchoo doing here?” someone says.
“Waiting for you,” you reply. There is no ambiguity in your look. Red surfaces in the other’s face like a stop sign. To you, red means go.
Browns and yellows dance, whites and blacks, pinks and ochre. The Erotic City of Ghosts is a beautiful place, full of diversity. You can visit at length, be drawn to the tearful glances of the people who are all full of feelings. There are many tears. Eroticism and Stoicism do not match. Should you like a more subdued city, the Shameful City of Scant Offerings is suggested. There are many quiet people there. Their tears have different meanings. They know more about regret. “I could not go see you because…”
These people abridge all charming thoughts. This is because they have never experienced the direct joy of Erotic Ghosts. In their own way, you may decide, they are ghosts as well. They are the ghosts of never.
They can be upscale and downscale, fat and thin, undeserving and unrewarded. Often, they make banquets out of solitude. Not everyone has a seedy side of town. In smaller cities, more often, there is a nook that resembles a dream or a diary. Sometimes, these cities are so small there are few inhabitants and the ones who exist there are better known than Bibles. The Erotic City of Ghosts does not discriminate on the basis of primary locale.
Religiosity is welcome here, especially of the sensual sort. “God, yes, god god god, yes.”
Oh, my, the carnival. Streamers! A young boy reaches his hand into his mother’s. One of the magician’s assistants with fishnet stockings and a short lace skirt has winked at him. Her smile pours into his veins, hot as confusion. Her shiny pink lips cause a fluttering in his heart. He will look for her, years later, in another tiny skirt. She will be warmly remembered.
If there is one issue with The Erotic City of Ghosts, it is that when it is overpopulated, it is hard to absorb at once. So many things will fade. The brick building that had five windows, in hindsight, had only three. The park where lovers frolicked, with time, has become an ugly place. There is litter. The higher the population, the less each citizen stands out.
If you blink, in the Erotic City of Ghosts, you can be any age you wish. The sights will differ with your focus. The world’s a mystery. Touch me and I’ve no longer fallen. Fall for me here or…add your own rock song cliché. People are capable of anything. Sexy changes by the hour.
There are those with whips in hand, clamps, chains. Those with flowers, rings, and chimes. “I want to break you,” some will say. Be wary of these. They have dungeons. “I want to taste you,” others will proclaim. Give space to these—you can never be fully consumed.
I knew a girl once where her Erotic City of Ghosts held just one man. This showed one can be living with one’s ghost, in alternate locales. Her ghost treated her so sweetly. He made her feel so fine. But that was years before. To regard her now, you may forget another version of her ghost lives right beside her. It is possible to live with your ghost. Your ghost is yours forever. Recognition is all, recovery.
She needs to recover him. In the Erotic City of Ghosts, you will only see his most engaging moments. Both of their hair is white now. They hardly speak. Sometimes there are two places one can be at once—but to be in such a tear produces tears.
Tears, I said, not sweat. A reminder: In the Erotic City of Ghosts no one does laundry. They do not do laundry because ghosts do not sweat. They wear only the shiny or sparkly outfits important to memory. Ghosts dance. Ghosts beckon. Ghosts charm.
Ghosts make helicopter patterns with lower anatomy while laughing and drinking red wine. You can fit them in your pocket or in a porous structure the size of a softball.
In the Erotic City of the Living there is no recollection, only sensation, only the very moment that encompasses one now. Here is your warning: This turns so quickly into death. Death is where the changing ghost is born.
You will notice, in the Erotic City of Ghosts, that there is no place for the careless hello. Conversations are more evolved, more charged.
The girl in the window, at the barre, in the red leotard, lifts her leg up to her cheek. The boy in the court strips his drenched white tank top and rubs it across his tan. The man in his apartment looks and looks away. Ghosts are comfortable here, transformed to snapshots. They have one thing in common. They belong and they belong to you.
Or perhaps your city has a different view than mine, but each city will have one thing in common: In an Erotic City of Ghosts, one’s skin creeps with the awareness of other flesh. The owner is not indifferent. The heart pounds. Desire must exceed the experience of the lover and yet the lover’s perception is constantly changing while remaining its identical age of acquisition. No one knows how to say a casual Hello—What rush is there in that?—though everyone here knows to say: I loved you once, goodbye.
Heather Fowler is the author of the story collections Suspended Heart (Aqueous Books, 2010), People with Holes (Pink Narcissus Press, 2012), This Time, While We’re Awake (Aqueous Books, 2013) and Elegantly Naked In My Sexy Mental Illness (Queen’s Ferry Press, forthcoming May 2014). She received her M.A. in English and Creative Writing from Hollins University. Her stories and poems have been published online and in print in the U.S., England, Australia, and India. She is Poetry Editor at Corium Magazine and a Fiction Editor for the international refereed journal, Journal of Post-Colonial Cultures & Societies (USA). Visit her at heatherfowlerwrites.com