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The body                                           

the body on the blue tarp, draped in filthy fleece, bone-bleached chinos, the one foot laced in a torn leather shoe, the other gone, that trouser leg knotted off just below the knee. Glint of gold about a wrist, a watch. The only sound a lazy lap of water somewhere below.

“You can’t,” he says, “think of it like that. The past is not another country. You can’t go to the future. They’re directions. Not places.”

She steps off the little wooden porch, sinks to her knees with a crackle of dead dry grass before a broken wooden tub. Ragged red Chuck Taylors, black boxer briefs, broad straw hat. A single sob heaves up shoulders burnt a ruddy brown, her back, her legs. Running from the waistband of her briefs a pale seam pinkly white against her sunbrowned belly shining up and up to the thick green stub of a stem, freshly broken, rooted in a gnurl of flesh on her breast.

“David?” she says. He’s slumped in the high-backed black desk chair, photographs spread over his lap, under his unmoving hands. Hazed by light from windowed walls that narrow to a windowed point in that open room. “David,” she says again, there in the kitchen, black shorts, red shoes, the broad straw hat, and something else, a flower a-bob there by her chin, bloomed delicately pink from a long green stem coiled once about her shoulders, and rooted in her breast. A scuff of something underfoot as she heads down from the kitchen, blue glitter brightly scattered on the steps.

Rustle she pulls the folded tarp from a narrow closet crunch as something heedless falls in its wake. Sunlight blares through windows all about, and drifting scrims of dust. Bundling the awkward tarp under one arm she brushes the flower irritatedly from her face and heads out past a tipped-over bucket, a rack hung with yellow track suits, white piping shrouded in dust, past drywall patched with curdled plaster, out onto the landing, and staircases up and down, and the chuckle and slap of water somewhere below.

Paddling her canoe through sunstruck wavelets up to the point of the corner of the building that rises up white and green, she slews about with the rough-hewn paddle to slow a rush of water sloshed before half-open doors of mud-flecked glass. Stashing the paddle in the bottom of the boat she reaches up and back for the frame and muscles bunching in sunburned arms leans, levers, wriggles the slender canoe around to pull herself backwards through the doors. Click-clack, a sign hung to one side, Sorry We’re Closed, it says.

Gliding back past mannequins knee-deep in scummed-over water, polyester finery gone dank, racks and shelves of clothing mud-soaked, rotting, clouded glass case filled with spills of beads, sunglasses tumbled in amber and tortoiseshell, clouds of chiffon scarves, sparkling bangles and baubles, the occasional fallal, geegaws, trinkets, slow currents roiling in her wake. Lifting off her hat she leans away from the flower by her chin, looks ahead over her shoulder to eye her stately progress through another doorway, into a trash-choked hall, until the stern clacks gently against a submerged crate. Clambering adroitly hat in hand from canoe up over stepping to the ottoman beyond a squelching leap the landing there, slimed with mud, stairs rising steeply, high and dry, to a second floor, and a third.

“Jesus,” she says, and “fucking” and “oh shit, you fucker, move.” With a skronking wrench the outer glass door shivers in against the weight of water shoved and sloshing falling through she’s spitting getting her splashing feet under herself dark hoodie soaked, black jeans sodden, fighting her way to the landing high and dry enough, “shit,” she says, but “Wait!” he’s pushed in after, churning up muck-slicked waves, falling to cling to a crate there by the wall of mailboxes, “Jo!” he yells, but she’s scrabbling up the stairs to the second floor. He splashes after white shirt translucent beige fleece slopped over his shoulders up the dripping steps, “Jo!” Lunging to clutch an ankle tripping her bang to her elbows, “Think,” he’s saying, as “Dammit!” she kicks herself free, “there’s no one here!” he cries, but she’s up on her feet, “Ysabel!” she bellows, from the next landing up. “Iona!”

“Shit,” he says, tugging back a waterlogged cuff to check the golden watch about his wrist, and every hand of each of its dials hung slackly loose. “Shit.”

Through the dead grass past a rust-mottled air vent toward the body on the tarp there by the parapet, she kneels to stroke the sunken cheek, “You stupid,” she murmurs, “stupid,” as she takes up a wrist, brushing back what remains of a fleecey sleeve to reveal that watch. Supinates the wrist to pick at the latch until it springs open, loosening the golden band, and the watch slips off to drop into her palm. She peers at the face of it in the shade of her hat, four or five dials each hashed with tiny numerals, signs and sigils, and all the hands pointed up and up, to twelve, to twenty-seven, to the tops of their dials, even the single ornate sweep hand above them all. “Stupid,” she says, again. “Never should’ve,” but the rest is blown away by a sigh. Lifting the edge of the blue tarp crinkling over the body, reaching to grab the other side. The watch chimes then, softly.

She freezes, bent over the body. Looks down without moving her head to the watch, tilted just to see the sweep hand swinging down to point toward something behind her, off to the left. The quiet lap of water far below’s disturbed by the faintest flickering hum. Slowly, so slowly she turns enough to look back over her left shoulder, where it hangs a few feet back, a central mass maybe as big as the palm of a hand, glossily carapaced, and waspish bodies, four of them, depended from the quarters of it, each twitching a-shiver with flickering wings, lacily rainbowed, too many too fast to count. She tenses as it swoops just a few inches away, spun about to bring one of those bodies to bear. She leans back her head, tipping the brim of her hat out of its way. Closes her eyes as it settles on her shoulder, a great four-taloned claw clamped about her upper arm, her back, her chest, the buzzing stilled, those wings now visible, four sets of four each, veinily transparent. The clicking as tiny legs dimple her skin. It noses closer to the broken stem rooted in her breast, and she sucks a sudden breath when black eyes open as that snout rears up, legs cycling before they seize her ragged stump, and squeeze it, drops of sap flicked up to what might be a mouth.

“Oh,” she says, “oh – ”

It kicks off in a blur of whirring wings, wheeling about to zip up and back, slip to one side, nose toward what’s laid out before her, but quickly now she settles the tarp to drape the body completely, and it turns away, spins about lifting, and she sits back on her heels to watch it accelerate away. Snaps the latch of the watchband closed about her fingers. The hands of it all swing slackly loose but the one, that sweep hand, still steadily pointed back behind her, off to the left. She looks back again. Nothing now but the little wooden porch in the awning’s shade, the closed door, the building beyond.

With a grunt she heaves the bundled body up onto the parapet, swings it out, away, lets go. After a moment from down below a splash. She’s already sat herself on the parapet, hat in one hand, watch about the other. She turns herself about, elbows braced, legs a-dangle kicking once, pushing herself away to let herself drop and then, a pause, the splash.

“Orthogonal,” he says. “Hyperbolic orthogonal, rather.” His voice unmuffled by that tarp. “Since we’re abstracting a pseudo-Riemannian manifold down to a, a pseudoholomorphically symplectic curve, and I’ve always liked that about math? If anything threatens the elegance of your equation, you can just,” he smiles, or seems to, “forget about it.” Laid out in the bottom of the canoe. She’s perched in the stern, braced against the gunwale to cant the boat to one side, driving it sluggishly forward with awkward curling strokes of the paddle. “So throw out the spacelike dimensions, height, breadth, width: fuck ’em. Focus on the timelike: now,” and he leans forward in the big black high-backed chair, fingers pinching a point before his eyes, “before,” a wave off to his left, “and after,” a gesture right.

“What have you done,” she says, lifting the lid of one of those boxes stacked about. Blue glitter slithers to the floor. He slaps it shut, knocking the lid from her hands. “You might as well ask who drowned the world,” he says, leaned heavily on his makeshift crutch.

“Future days,” she mutters. The bow of the canoe now pointed past those spiky hillocks ahead, leafless crowns of submerged trees. She rests the dripping paddle on the gunwales.

“They’re gone!” he roars, pounding up the stairs after her, grabbing her arm. She shoves, slap of wet clothing, “whatever’s up there,” his gritted teeth, “fuck you,” she snarls, shoves him against the wall, “it isn’t them,” he says, catching her hand. She yanks back, drops to sit on the steps, “think,” he says, sitting back in that chair, “of time as a line. We’ll keep it simple. Time is a line, and now?” His hands suggest a line in the air, string a point on it, shrug. “Thing about now is, now doesn’t move. It can’t. It’s now. It’s the line that moves,” sweep of a hand from right to left, “bringing what’s to come, letting go of what has been. What do you think,” lurching away from the box with a hop-skip, crutch and foot, over toward the windows, “about a hundred feet? How many icebergs even is that?”

“All of them,” she mutters, digging in with the paddle again, past the cool shadow of an apartment block, out over unruffled water like milky mud stretched vastly out before her. Far-off, ahead, towers rise grey-glassed and white, and further off, to the right, the towering arc of a bridge still high and dry above the water, past green-glassed towers and girdered infrastructure sunk deep, overwhelmed. To her left, another bridge risen up from the middle of the swollen river to almost reach the steep far bank. She savages the water with the paddle, swinging her freighted bow toward it, toward another set of girdered towers, angled stubs that jut from the water there and there before the empty freeway bridge. “All of them,” she says, but he shakes his head under the tarp, “Precisely,” he says. “The thing about now is, we experience the moment, the instant, the point, but it’s really a plane. To keep it simple. I mean, where the line of time passes through it?” Poking the palm of his hand. “A point, sure. But looping out from that,” his poking finger lifted in a swoop, “perpendicular to, orthogonal to that line, etched across the plane of now: what might’ve been. What maybe could. Every moment,” he says, sitting back in the chair, “carries with it everything that led up to it, and anything that might come of it.” Leaning on his crutch there by the windows, sunlight dappling his face.

“What the fuck is this,” she growls when he opens the door.

“Good to see you, too,” he says, slumping with studied insouciance.

“The fuck, David!” Thumping the door with a fist, rattling the numbers nailed to it. She reaches into her unzipped hoodie to yank down the collar of her white T-shirt. He frowns, peering at the blemish on her breast, the puckered skin, the greenly yellow leaf uncurling from it. “Well, damn,” he says. “I guess we know now we’re not inside of that.”

“You’re so full of shit,” she says, unzipping her sodden hoodie. “You fucked with this,” click-clack she taps the hard little lump on her breast, under her wet white T-shirt, “and it did what it does, which is contain the fuckery.” He lets out a single flat laugh, turning away from the windows on his crutch, “If that’s taken us inside of it,” he says, and a nod for the flower grown up straight and tall beside her chin, “then how is it in here, with us?”

The canoe’s slipped into still water, in the lee of one of those girdered towers, a breakwater of junk, branches and broken timbers and picked-over flotsam. Caged in the girders high above a great counterweight, storeys of concrete once painted red, now covered over with crawling black shapes blurred by buzzing wings. “Well,” he says. “We’re fucked then, aren’t we.”

“Should’ve gotten some dry clothes.”

“I wouldn’t go back there, if I were you,” he says, and she stops, dripping, there in the kitchen. “That’s,” she says, looking into the open, sunlit room beyond, “those,” as he pushes past, down the three low steps, among the regular banker’s boxes white and brown stacked about, on the floor, on the sofa, “the photos,” she says. “The Devil’s morgue. Someone must’ve brought it all up, before the flood.”

“You haven’t heard a goddamn thing I’ve said.” He sits back in the chair. Lifts the lid of a box, water puddling at his feet. “There is no back. We can’t go anywhere. All we’ve got is now.” Leaned on that crutch. “It’s just, a different now. But the problem is, whatever it is that makes it different?”

“What have you done,” she says, red shoes spangled with blue glitter, that flower pink grown up out of her half-zipped hoodie.

“The math. Can’t. Tell,” he says, knocking the lid of the box by his knee for emphasis. “Whatever we use to try to grab hold of it, points, vectors, planes or manifolds, pseudoholomorphic curves, whichever way we run the equations, forwards, backwards, now or later, doesn’t matter. You can’t tell. The math,” a lop-sided shrug, “forgets.”

A hawk screams somewhere, and those black shapes leap from the tower to a sudden thunderhead, a bombilation rising in volume, falling in pitch as they swoop overhead, dip toward the canoe, the tarp-wrapped body within. She lifts her paddle, holds it warily, as she glides closer to the tower, “Hrif!” someone cries, a figure up there, hanging off a ladder, glint of sunlight on goggles. “Hrif!” Someone else, scrambling toward her over the junkpile.

“What did you do,” she whispers under her broad straw hat, the stem of that flower grown long enough now to loop, once, about her shoulders.

They’ve wrapped the body with bungee cords about the tarp, the one of them goggles pushed up, a couple faded T-shirts one over another and arms wound about with strips of filthy cloth, the other in dusty black rubber waders, dark shoulders shining, floppy grey bucket hat. She’s perched above them, leaned back against a girder, red shoes braced on an angled beam, “I did what I had to!” he shouts, through the tarp. “I figured it out! How to make it matter!”

“Gheupo we!” The body jerks, bungee cords lashed to a cable yanked taut, gears creaking. It begins to spin, slowly, as it’s lifted.

“I know how this ends, David,” she says, as he lurches toward the chair, as he sits back in the chair, as he spins that high-backed chair about, idly, with one wet hand. “You’re gonna die here,” she says. “Right there.”

“But I figured out how to make it back,” he says.

She shrugs.

“Topat wel,” says the one, pushing back the bucket hat. The other’s halfway up the tower, guiding the body past the enormous counterweight, and the buzzing crowd eddies about, skirling, whirling up to settle in crawling clusters at the top of that tower, waiting. “Dal, dam timon, the time, ’s good. Hungruz, kenk, kenkru? Grows,” he says. “Topat wel. Gedhlei. Good.”

“Yeah,” she says, hopping off the beam, crash and crunch through the junk.

“You’ll be back,” he says, leaned on his crutch, sat in that chair, dripping among all those boxes.

“Yeah,” she says. The towers of downtown so close across the water, brick and crowned by a ziggurat, high and white with darkly narrow windows, grey and topped by the tilted black wing of a great solar panel, and pale smoke drifting from beneath it into a white sky filled with droning black shapes swelling the flocks that circle above, but ahead, behind all that, rising into the haze from the flood, a lone tower of ruddy amber glass framed by dull pink stone all flatly sunstruck bright, and tethered far above a garden, a sudden burst of color against the sky, circling a castle of yellow stone, all on the back of a shining silver zeppelin.

From behind her, the call, “Medheigh!” She waves without looking back. Plants a foot in the canoe scraping against driftwood, balancing a moment. Red shoes, black shorts, the broad straw hat. Stump of a stem at her breast, gold watch flashing about her fingers as she reaches for the paddle. Leaning into a kick of a shove, pushing out over

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Pseudo-Riemannian Manifolds and Isometric Actions of Simple Lie Groups,” written by Raul Quiroga-Barranco, ©2013.

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