uncertain cities

words and sequences of them by Rhett Davis


There were four towers in the complex. Wide swinging doors—the sort that you have to time just right—led to their entrances. There was gold and black shimmer and warm yellow light and glass and reflections, and men and women with expensive clothes and important business swarmed around. I was dressed well, but not well enough. I wasn’t sure where I had to go, so I circled for a while. There was a food court and I found a cafe that wasn’t busy and I bought coffee and decided I would pretend that I knew what I was doing. I walked up the stairs to the tower I intended to enter. I walked through the swinging doors like it was something I always did. I found the reception desk and a woman approached me from behind. She was tall and there was a frightening symmetry about her. She asked if she could help me and called me sir. I hadn’t shaved and my shirt was hanging out and my backpack looked a little scruffy. I didn’t feel like a sir. I said where I wanted to go, and she pointed to the elevator I needed, and I thanked her, and she looked at me for a little too long. I went to the elevators and I looked around at the people going to their elevators, these people needing people with frightening symmetry to make sure they get to their destination, to make sure only the right people were permitted. The elevator was full of mirrors and a television and I couldn’t look anywhere but up, and I ascended with these people. And I got out at my floor and I found a table in the office and I plugged in my laptop and pretended I belonged there. I reminded myself I had a card that proved that I did. Others with frightening symmetry walked around, removing plates and correcting placements and calling people sir and madam. It occurred to me that I could only be in that complex in that tower on that floor on that table with my laptop plugged if I had passed a test conducted by someone, somewhere. Perhaps the woman at reception. Perhaps someone looking at video screens, or device tracking statistics. There were four towers in the complex, and I was on one of the floors, and there were hundreds of towers in the city and thousands of floors and millions of people and none of us were satisfied with how high we were. I wondered when they were going to ask for my ID card.