Excerpt 2

The Birth of Zanzibar

As she lay at the foot of the tower, the patricia dreamt a dream – but what the patricia dreamt, no one can say. We know this much only: she saw before the eye of her imagining the barren desert, numberless, and she felt the raw wind on her face that is ever blowing there. She felt the sand and dust raised up by that wind striking her face and catching in her hair, unto the lashes on her eyes, and at her side there sat a wildcat of the desert, sleek and strong and striped in tan and gold. Claire squinted against the sandy wind, to make out what there was to see in the lonely place.

Now she saw before her clover, sedge, and moss, and lilies and poppies rising from the wretched ground, and daffodils and hollyhocks and blueberries, and their flowers bloomed, so that the desert bloomed, and where there was no color, now there was color. Beneath the howling wind, she heard the roar of the sea, far off but not too far.

The squinting patricia thought, “I am witness to the birth of Zanzibar.” And she knelt upon the waste to see those first blossoms that were Zanzibar, and her breath stopped in her throat as the petals in their many colors caught the sun. At her side the wildcat of the desert observed blossoming Zanzibar as well.

A question came out the palace of her reason and she wondered, “What happened to old Trebizond?” But where she knelt, the wind was now uncovering the stained white dome, and she laid hands on it and wrenched it from the sand and dust. The sand poured out the holes that once held eyes, for this thing in Claire’s hands was the skull of a man. A circle made from dark garnets was inlaid in its brow, but some of the garnets had gone missing with the insults of time. The wildcat of the desert looked at the skull with interest, then it said to her, “This is a piece of old Trebizond, for since the world started into motion, no thing is made but that it be built on the bones of the dead. It is true new forms arise, but of new matter, there is none.” The patricia said, “How many must lose their bones that my railroad may be built?”

But the wildcat of the desert declined to answer her, rather preferring to lick its paw where the sand was stuck between the pads. Claire stood and looked at the flowers pouring from the barren earth, and said to the wildcat of the desert, “What manner of sight is this that I am beholding?” The strong beast turned to her and said, “This were the history of how Zanzibar came to be, but it is not the history of men and their lives. Rather is it that history as the soul knows it, which is written in lightning, on paper that makes men dizzy with the sweet smell of honeysuckles. Therefore it takes strange forms which the reason cannot always understand, nor the passions compass, for all that it be true.”

This explanation sorted well with the patricia, and she laid down the skull of Trebizond upon the sands, and the wildcat of the desert sniffed at it. Claire turned her gaze upon the garden that was blooming from the awful desert, and wiped away a tear that was on her cheek, where she was squinting against the sandy wind. “Goodbye, my love,” she said to the garden that was Zanzibar, “and know I bend my shoulder every minute to returning to you, and will steal every bone to return to you, and will return to you before that I go out from underneath the sun, in manner duly befitting of a patricia.”


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