Excerpts from 'Glass City'

by Nick Greer

[ Lovers ]

People in the city take lovers, how could they not? The evening fog comes on suddenly and old houses can’t keep heat though they do have working fireplaces. I once taught a student at the university how to open her house’s flue. She watched this most ancient process with distrustful awe. We fed the fire on last semester’s books, their contents mostly forgotten. She sensed my long history, those pages we learn and can never unlearn, no matter how we try. She feared, not that she might be added to the library, but that I wouldn’t think to take her off the shelf again, brush the dust from her jacket, admire the distance between dog ears. But this process is also why she invited me in, to see where this obtuse volume might fit. When our fire was almost dead, she asked me to imagine all those shelves and all those aisles, how they run parallel to each other and therefore never actually touch. They make a city, this city, where paper is now millions of little squares beneath a glass sheet.

[ Versions ]

I often wonder, why is it that when surrounded by so many people, I only notice those my age or younger, though it’s more specific than that, when I really think about it. I see whatever age I wish I still was. It is too easy to imagine these perfectly young people in various states of undress, especially during those rare November heat waves when their clothing approximates just that. They sit on their stoops in tank tops drinking Mexican beers with lime wedges trapped inside like little ships. That night a woman will fall in with a man, a woman, then a man again. The next day she will blame the heat while at the same time praising it, carrying it with her like a charm—so unseasonal. But really, when I think about it, they are all falling in with different versions of themselves. A woman discovers crocheting, discovers she hates crocheting, but more than that she hates being alone. A man becomes a woman and thinks this will save me. A man falls in with the right type of denim, which is already a type of something else if you think about it. Please do. I have been many things, except what I always wanted to be. We wear this necklace of adjectives so long it has no noun, just an infinite choiceness. Buildings now all have reflective glass, which is just melted sand if you really think about it.

[ Days ]

There are days when I stop and accept the pink sadness of it all. Often it’s one of those unassuming Tuesdays when mercury is in retrograde and everyone knows to ditch work and lay in the grass. But more likely, it’s something closer—a hummingbird hovering for a moment, or the fog makes me think of gift wrap instead of gauze. Today, it was an open window, a woman singing to herself as she went about her morning. She was older, I could tell by the long grooves in her voice, and so was the song. I recognized it, could even sing along, and yet, I couldn’t tell you it’s name. Nor did I care to, and this relinquishing was what let me know.

I walk south, then north, then south again. I leave change in coffee cups and smile at strangers as if they are not. Window shopping is quite appealing, this casual freedom of seeing myself both inside and out. I am a regular at this establishment, but also the surprise guest, a chance encounter. A group of attractive young somethings passes by with a basket full of charcuterie, wildflower honey and levain, something brushed in truffle oil. Is that a backgammon set? They’re off to the beach. They invite me to join, and I do.

We drink white wine out of paper cups, though we never get drunk. It takes a half-hour to roll the joint, but no one minds; this is part of the texture. Did you know, someone asks. Have you read, another says. The fog crinkles away and there is our gift—the sun, bright and dumb as a fresh tennis ball. We forget to play backgammon. We forget each others’ names. The fog returns as if it had never left, but not before the sun melts into the water, warming us each with its almond light. We must do this again, everyone agrees, though even if we do, this will never come again, not like this.

Was this day one I lived, or was it a future memory, an object to be placed in a cigar box until it is perfectly bittersweet? Did I manage to break through the panes that circumscribe each one of us? Surely not, but I was no longer an algorithm, or perhaps, I lost track of what I was. Maybe I am packed away in a hexagon, but at least there is honey in a hive. Tomorrow we will wake different, or the same. This glass you hold will still be the glass that holds you. I will try to make peace with the great ellipsis, and I will fail, I will.

Nick Greer is a writer from San Francisco. He holds an MFA Creative Writing from the University of Arizona and is a founding editor of Territory, a literary project about maps and other strange objects. Recent writing has appeared in Phantom, PLINTH, and the Tin House Open Bar.