Fashionable people shimmer like martini glasses through the luminescent city of Harth. Swept along the avenues, they pass by the house fronts melting under the street lamps, and tip their hats to each other. They wear sharp fitting suits and bell shaped dresses, their thin faces selling their own handsomeness to each other like vendors hocking poultry. Every glance is calculated for the comeliest angle as if there were a photographer crouched under every awning or spying on them from an upper window.
When visitors of the city talk to these figures crossing along the promenade beside the gold Glister river, they are struck by the silence they receive at their questions. Amongst themselves, the inhabitants of the city converse in voices like bird song or trickling water, but for them, only rude silence. The visitor repeats the question, or the solicitation of directions – and gets no answer, not even a glance, as the man or woman walks by. They seem never to go anywhere, but merely to pass by.
It is only after speaking to the hoteliers at their lodging that they realize these beautiful people are marionettes. Only then do they see the strings sprouting from their backs as they glide through the city as if it were a ballroom. The visitor asks why they are there, why they are conveyed across the thoroughfare until late at night. To make the city less lonely, is the hotelier’s response. There are only five hundred people living here, but they make it seem like a thousand.
What are they made of, the visitor will ask. Their arms are the wings of swans. Their tongues are from hearts of palm. Their teeth are porcelain. Their spines are from hackberry trees. Is this true, the visitor asks. It might be, is the reply. How do they speak? The hotelier smiles. There are bellows in their stomachs. Then the hotelier departs, and the visitor cannot help but wonder if they were a marionette too.
Harth is the center of the urban bourgeois. Or at least what passes for the urban bourgeois, when other families huddle in tents at night and roast horseshoe-crabs for dinner. Its residents are practitioners of law, of medicine, watchmakers, carpenters, and journalists. There are poor academics paying twelve ox hooves a month to sleep in broom closets, suffocating behind piles of paper and cleaning chemicals. It is even rumored that some families possess ossuaries. When two powerful families unite in the libidinal stock exchange of marriage, the couple will celebrate the newly forged tributary of wealth by stocking their mantelpiece with useless and frivolous antiques: physical books bound in leather and horsehide, automatic firearms, sex toys from centuries past, telephones, computer scraps polished up after taken from the electronic boneyards that line the outskirts of Harth.
Here is Harth: fleets of leaves sliding along the gold coated river, a locked courtyard with a convocation of cats warming under the red lights of an office. The taste of metal in the wind, the smell of chocolate in the air. A watchmaker stirs a cup of hot rum while her daughters bake sweet potato pie in the kitchen. The visitor walking by will look in at all the lighted windows and imagine the town being built up from the unyielding windblown emptiness that preceded it, its transformation into a living ember.
The visitor will feel humbled that the human can hide the way it does, with its flowers and bed-frames and the hands of wives, husbands. They will feel they can never articulate the strangeness of it, and decide to just head back to their hotel, because the sky is full of rain and one never knows what is going to happen.