THE GRAND CEREMONY AT THE CITY OF SADNESS

Yes, I confess, I have tried for years and years of my life to be accepted into the empyrean of the sarcophagi of the mummified high society of the City of Sadness. Exclusion hurt when I lived there, but after a century, or more than a century to be precise, here they are! Right now, just when I do not give a damn about all of this anymore, people want to initiate me into sinister Masonic lodges. Invitations come, the Galas . . .

The credit is mine, no doubt about it! But let me be honest, I would not be where I am without my studies abroad. It was beyond the borders of my birthplace where the right people understood my highly destructive potential.

If you are born in the City of Sadness, you will never change your status in the City of Sadness. We all know this. Well, unless perhaps you dedicate yourself to the game of the two-tone spheroid, which generates high merit, making you a sort of hero. This is possible even if you’re a lower-class man. Or, even worse, if you like to study . . . But it was not for me; I am too thin and consumptive, hypertrophied in language.

I was diagnosed, as a child, of a lexical form of cancer. I had a pernicious black outgrowth of vocabulary that was building up, pressing on the amygdale, and, if I’d not extracted the wordy serum every month, risked going crazy.

I started as a misanthropologist. At first I was prone to defeat and resignation, but then I found in myself a strange courage and hidden willpower; I fled despite my health problems, and the need for sociopathinsulin every two days.

If you go abroad and stay there for years, the sinusoidal rays and paranoid visual perceptions of indigenous peasants will no longer register you as the insignificant being they once used to bully; your proportions become exaggerated, climbing Mount Ida and Olympus, overlapped in these peasants’ fevered and shivering minds—a Titan before irrelevant and terrified moron gods.

In short: I studied at Oxford . . . That is, to be noted, in Oxford, Lafayette County, Mississippi, but it is still something that cannot be ignored, and holds some weight here. I speak twelve languages, all badly!

My publications have been distributed all around the world; they were considered so vile, despicable and dangerous, that they have had the honor of being treated by joint projects at the Pentagon and the Kremlin.

Both came to the conclusion that reading the flatulent, manic, antisocial and misanthropic material that exits my occipital anus is so dangerous that my writings could be used for newer and better bombs.

We developed the weapons project, and these products of my mind were immediately included in the UN list of banned and non-conventional weapons, while various prizes were given to me simultaneously.

Along with the awards, US and Russian governments agreed to gift me with a huge villa in the “suburbs,” and the corresponding land: eighteen hundred miles—I repeat, one thou-sand ei-ght hun-dre-d miles diameter—orbiting in the Kuiper belt.

I was also warmly invited to live there, but not to travel too often, nor give lectures and speeches. Too risky! They pay me to write, in my delirium, weapons of mass destruction for both.

Today, however, I’m making an exception! It is time for my little revenge on my native soil; now everybody is eager to know me: all the corpses of my terrible past, spent between sutures and Cicatrene, now send many invitations.

I am very elegant. As beautiful as the sun. My luminary doctor’s beard comes down to my navel; I have aged over a hundred years, after all!

As soon as the train comes to a silent stop, the brass funeral band of the town greets me with a tremendous and jarring noise. Like in a funeral march, the cymbals crash, suggesting that the heavens will open, the tentacles of their vindictive and grim god Cthulhu dropping to crush all. It looks like a fifties movie, in black and white.

The page, in dark uniform, takes the suitcases. “Garcon!” I shout, unnecessarily, severe and authoritarian, showing off the only word I know in French that cannot harm anyone, even if written. (French is a poor fissile language, as everyone knows now.)

There is the mayor, with his big bald cicatrizant head. He has been in power for more than a century. Then the deputy mayor with his brackish color skin, as well as the lunatic councilors, all lined up in double-breasted suits.

The councilor of cultural affairs, a formerly beautiful woman with advanced septicemia and UV-olive skin, congratulates me. I look at her, frowning. She cannot dare to compete with my intellectual stature!

Bloated as a beached whale, the commissioner for mortuary policy and former high Skepticfic Lyceum fellow, feels the right and the duty to speak out, being overly familiar and sharing confidences with me. I shut him up! I’m not here to be polite and listen; I’m here to be wickedly honored!

They all bow. Understandably, they are intimidated by my formidable chest, covered with sparkling crosses, gold plaques, bands of satin. My Teutonic neck medal dazzles the milky white eyes of the politicians, grinding their teeth, purple lips eaten by time, reacting to the sparkle as a vampire would before the crucifix.

They bend over again. That’s what must be! I say to myself: I’m a genius! Certainly what I do not need to hear again is all the usual bullshit and rubbish I had to stand for a lifetime. Always the same shit . . . I had to listen to all that for over a century! Today I am the one who is talking!

I remind myself of my house and porch with the rocking bench on the Kuiper belt, the cosmic silence, me sitting there and shooting at the closer asteroids with a shotgun loaded with nuclear words, exploding the great rocks like shot plates to relax.

I breathe; I am the only one who can do it. The air stinks, ammonia and sulfur. But certainly, I do not lose my majestic composure, despite the stench.

We all proceed with great fanfare to the Threat Theatre de Paris, the most elegant Café of the town, used for only special occasions, decorated with white and black funeral garlands. “There were four years it was closed . . .” the councilor says to me. I’m not interested!

There is, there is . . . everyone! All of them! All the citizens are there. Tremendous applause resounds! Former friends, former girlfriends, former lovers, former teachers, former classmates, former employers, former enemies, former parents, former relatives, former slaveholders. They shout: “Viva your redacting nuclear weapons!” and stuff like that. They are ghosts, but they know what they are talking about! They studied! That’s kind!

The destructive power of my work must have deeply impressed these savages if they speak about it with such enthusiasm; I’m glad. My written words are so deadly that they are now preserved in only two places in the world, fiercely guarded and above top secret. Even I do not know where they are.

The radioactive waste, a green luminescent soup gushed from the implementation of my writings by atomic physicists was so corrosive that new barrels of vitreous titanium had to be designed in order to contain it. Applause!

The ceremony is brief and effective; the fellahs must have been informed of my tastes. I’m honored with a picture of Enrico Fermi with a dedication by his own hand. I like it much; Fermi is one of my heroes, I explain: “A great source of inspiration when I had to convert the written lexicon into unstable radioactive material.” I say, cheers again, attempts at a stadium chorus . . . I stop them immediately! I can’t stand them!

I do not get emotional, of course. Instead, frowning, I scan an audience trying to smile, despite their decay, the abscesses and stitches in their faces. There are all the citizens, no one is missing, and they are all dead! All classmates of all ages are present. At least I think so. Is it possible that no one else went away from here? No one is safe?

Then I think back to how difficult it was to escape: the tunnel under the sewage canal that drained smelly bilge water into the marina; the earth and hardened fossil clay that did not break easily under my pick, or even the motor pick; the abundant dinosaur bones obstructing the passage. . . . I went to the hole every night, filthy and exhausted, only to advance a few meters . . . so I understand that such an undertaking is not for everyone, especially for the chronically dead.

Look at them! They’re all dead, even the children, ugly, scary, they have killed them from birth. Zombies, they stagger and lumber, moaning bleakly. I am the only one alive, and one century old. Even so, I am lively and spry as ever, but I am the only one who notices, because the dead do not know exactly that they are dead; maybe they think or dream of being alive, and the living as well, they think of being alive . . .  but they really are!

I make a short speech: “Dear gray shades, comrades and companions, I’m here to celebrate my immense skills and geniality, as you would expect. I’m the best, I deserve it! I was born here in the City of Sadness. I, too, have lived surrounded by executions, hangings, red-hot tongs on breasts, whipping and salt, axes and crack cocaine, heroin and alcohol abuse, sexual repression, hair shirts, but I escaped! You do not! Once out, it was easy, my dear ulcerated, to be successful. I just found a way to stay alive, isolating the mental and physical illness of living and expelling it from the body without dying. Today I’m immortal. And besides also being the best! Thanks!”

Rounds of applause, deeply felt, judging by the enthusiasm, although a little muffled: the rotten meat sounds strange when beating against other rotten meat. From expensive putrid and moth-eaten clothes, dust and toxic spores infect the air. I cough. I’ll never understand! Why are they such bootlickers?

I hurry up and conclude. Finally, the buffet! How appropriate it is. I act properly: I do not launch myself upon it like a pig, as I am used to doing, as I did the first time at the Pentagon and also in Stockholm and Oslo for the Nobel Prize, gobbling raw fish and savory pastry like crazy. I pose as someone who knows good manners.

“Brandy?” I ask politely, and with a terribly fake English accent, and a quite false smile, directed toward a somewhat insane girl from the kindergarten: “A Vernaccia, maybe? Barley water with ice?” I raise my glass of green absinthe in salute to the people, and I feel moans and gasps of death in response. The liquor has no taste at all, like water.

I grab a cream puff; the cream is solid, and must be a month old. I eat it: rotten: rotten eggs. I switch to a bun with cheese. Turning it over, I discover a dark gray and green layer of fluorescent mold. I pretend it’s blue cheese, and eat the thing anyway.

People smile at me as they can. Even the pizzas are stale; the cheese is like chewing gum, the crusts are dry, with the corners folded up. I do not know what stuff they have spread on them, but it is so old that it has shriveled, curving the white bread. All of the pizzas taste the same: rotten anchovy. I pour the wine: it is decrepit, sleek, brick-colored. Fully oxidized. What garbage! The label says Barolo Prapò. Criminals! Waste such a wine in this way! Dom Perignon completely still!

Poor things! By living at their deceased pace they have completely lost the knowledge of how to do things: for fear of not getting ready in time, the food has been prepared too far in advance, and is now disgusting! The buffet must have been laid here a month ago!

I feel a bit anxious. I hate this place and these people, but I grew up right here, as did my cancer that eventually made me into a celebrated Death Doctor; I think they wanted to do their best and my attitude is not good. It is not fair to presume like I am doing, taking revenge, poor gruesome zombies! To mock them is mean. . . .

I grab with two fingers an aniseed chocolate. No! Same thing! What a dump!

Then, by chance, I see among the multitude that girl from high school, the one, remember, who asked her friend in front of me why she was inviting a living nerd like me to her eighteenth funeral party, with all the beautiful kickball zombies that there were in the High School of the Dead at the time, more than a century ago.

Oh, no! I harden again! These people deserve my hostile attitude, and much more! Sticks and whips, indeed! They deserve a taste of the destructive power of my H-bomb vocabulary. I’m about to write something on the board . . . that would really kick their asses! Everything will explode if I take it seriously! Oh, yeah! I grab the chalk.

Thankfully, this inspires in me an instant urge to go to the bathroom and be sucked, but I reconsider it . . . I calm down, all these former high school chicks are really too decomposed for such practices. I’m just a pig! And now, as I am alive, but life-free, sex is not an issue anymore. I feel much, much better. I am a professor! I do not care about trivial erogenous practices, unless there is some resentment involved, or a slutty secretary, or a slutty assistant in white laboratory coat. And stuff like that!

I begin to bitch and moan about the quality of the catering. I criticize the Martinis. Vermouth is stale, gin has no scent. The eggs are a thousand years old, and the chickens are raw; plucked, oh yes, but still moving. You have to kill them before serving, even they are anointed with oil and filled with rosemary, you idiots! The salad is almost liquified from decomposition; the imperial display of fruit has bugs everywhere; the roast has maggots and worms; chestnuts with termites; moths and flies are fluttering and buzzing around the tray of thrushes and woodcocks. It is assumed that in their faux-chic kitchens, which only provincial peasants likes these can still appreciate, you are supposed to brown in a pan the dates wrapped in bacon, but not the cockroaches! The beer has expired, the bottled beer, I mean; because the draft one just stinks like you wouldn’t believe, and is vitriolic as acid.

I go on for a good half an hour, breaking everyone’s balls like that, how and where I can; everywhere I turn I have ideas to blame someone or something. All nod, embarrassed. They deserve it! I speak about Sweden, and put them to shame with the comparison. To me, Sweden sucks! But they do not know. “They do not kill people in the streets there, in spite of being Vikings!” I say, to make them feel inferior. They are the only ones so far behind. And so on . . . Embarrassment!

Idiots!

They are all drunk by now; they never tolerated alcohol, but since they have rotting intestines . . . look at that crap! Most of them have guts hanging or spilling out from various orifices and slits, between their thighs, lumps of blood on their clothes, on their hair. The women are especially repulsive. I remembered them to be better looking!

I disappear, walking alone to the train station. It is not difficult to get out without being stopped; most of the zombies are blind and deaf, and they perceive me only by my fragrant anticorpse cologne.

In the streets I do not see single soul, and as it always happens at Christmas, I’m alone. The sound of the heels of my extremely luxurious French boots echo and reverberate, dry and lonely among the stone walls, tapping on the spherical cobblestones of the street; oil lamps spread my shadow, painting it on the walls, populating the dark air with harmless flickering ghosts.

There is a werewolf pissing on a church; he snarls, and I pull the sword, just an inch, from my swordstick. Wolves from here are not dangerous at all, but I like to think of being able to pierce the hearts of these creatures of the night with my silver blade. I have been training for years, but I have never done something like that. In spite of being a respected Death Doctor! I adjust my monocle and cylinder, retouch the knot of my immaculate tie, and move on.

Of course I will not take the train this time. That was just a farce, performing the role of venerable centenarian professor in black cape. I’m expected by my chauffeur. The door of the ship is open; I step on the ramp and the tractor beam lifts me up. As my butler sees the red beam he hastens, and before the trap door closes below me he is already offering my usual Martini on a graven tray. Freshly prepared, and cold. He is a really smart man!

I take a sip. Great, as usual! I exhibit a sign of approval, and he responds with a nod of satisfaction, accented by an elegant movement of the right eyebrow.

Ah! Finally! Home! I rub my hands happily. “They served me penne with vodka!” I say. Everyone pretends to be horrified. What good actors we are!

I look down through the glass floor at the lights of the City of Sadness, the oil lamps in the streets, the large expanse of the popular cemetery, the square wet with tears, and the hanging cages with people skinned and burned, the churches with their pillories, the beheaded, and remains of ritual cannibalism.

I feel safe; I remove my tight dress coat, all medals, silk sashes. I stow it all away, and don my white space suit in a flash, while the engines are warming up. What a power, those engines! Putin has been very kind to leave me a prototype that will get me home in less than an hour.

The butler polishes the silverware; the pilot amuses himself by accelerating the reactors at breakneck speed, pushing them to their limits. Look at that!

My bespectacled secretary, after annotating the agenda, licks her pencil, holding it between parted red lips; there’s nothing complicated to do for the next week. Just write bombs in Chinese and Cyrillic.

“Come on! Let’s go!” I say. I am happy, but I pretend to be impatient and annoyed. We all laugh. We sail to Kuiper, my beautiful ice stone -223.15 ° C, with my gentleman’s Victorian house, the porch with swing seat, double-barreled shotgun always nearby—in the dark interstellar desert, at the edge of the solar system. The last populated place, and the farthest away from my homeland, the City of Sadness.

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