Her City of One

This is an excerpt from the attempts of my first novel.  The working title is “Her City of One.”  Below is a synopsis, a sonnet from the novel, and the first few pages of the manuscript.  I hope you enjoy it!


“Her City of One” follows a young woman’s last day before she commits suicide.  As a symptom of her depression, she tends to micro-analyze her environment, failing to grasp the bigger world that surrounds her.  In this failure, she also misses the importance of her existence in association to the human relationships she inevitably develops as she lives her daily life.

“Her City of One” refers to the main character’s crushing loneliness as her inward focus necessarily incapacitates her ability to recognize any interaction with the other people in the city.  We only hear from the people in the tragic heroine`s life after she has died.  They each represent a separate stage of grief as they mourn her death.  The characters we meet are the members of the girl`s family, friends, lovers, and the city itself.

Her city of one — The Sonnet:

She lost herself in lonely city life,

Not seeing how her presence could be loved.

When caring hand that try to guide are shoved

back they go leaving self and life in strife.

The Lady M draws easy ends by knife;

Guilt overcome and bloody hands are gloved.

Ophelia played the part of girl unloved;

A quiet end where selfishness is rife.

She played both parts and promised painless peace:

the cost of peace in terms of blood unseen;

her eyes were hid by Death’s own golden fleece.

As pulse retreats, regret and pain increase;

No cruel life is as bad as Death is mean —

Renew leased life, but Death does not release!

Her City of One: The Journey

She stands in the rain, her head lifted up, welcoming the cool drops as they mask the hot tears falling down her cheeks.  She is in a city – alone and insecure: a familiar feeling from high school days.  Uncertainty.  Uncertain of who she was, of who she would become.  But now, one thing is different.  Today she is certain of one thing, and that certainty wrapped its seduction around her with such warmth that the tears boiled over in relief.  And then the rain came.  It came as if to greet her.  A cool distant greeting from the heavens.

Blackness suddenly surrounds her.  A flood of slick nylon threatens to drown her… unapologetically swaying her back and forth until it forces her to retreat.  Swept backwards, drifting with the sea, she follows the rain waters down into the depths of the city`s subway system.

The roar of the trains stirs up heavy gusts of humid air that drenches her in the stench of rotting filth.  She used to gag at the smell of various decaying fluids that would collect in the subway tunnels, but now is strangely calmed by it.  It has been a constant; one that never desists, one that cannot be escaped from when within its realm.  Once hit by it, all other thoughts scatter, and the mind focuses on its power.  It captivates.  It embraces.  It is utterly unique.

Lost in the hypnotic smell, she misses her train.  She runs along the empty platform, futilely pounding at the steel sides… then… stops.  She waits.  As the train speeds off, it throws up another whirlwind that smacks her in the face.  She closes her eyes and is consumed.

As the roar dies down, she hears soft singing.

Just look into your mother`s eyes.

It grows Louder.

Oh sweet Angel,

If your looking for God`s love

Just look into your mother`s eyes.

When I was down

She picked me up.

When I had a frown

She cheered me up.

Just look into my eyes dear,

And know I`m always there.

She sits on a bench and looks down.  The voice crescendos and retreats.  Another gust.  She boards the train with the masses.  She leans against a pole and looks out the window.  She sees her reflection standing in the black tunnel wall.  The reflection sneers at her, threatening to reach out from beyond the glass and drag her into its dimension.  She closes her eyes to escape the glare, and when she opens them she is greeted again by the same menacing eyes.  Surely that evil is not a reflection of her own eyes.  She can`t look away.  She is fixated on the eyes that so much resemble her own, but sinister.

Just look into my eyes, dear

And know I`m always there

there is no escape

An old hat is thrust at her.  Startled, she takes a dollar out of her pocket and puts in the hat.  And just as abruptly as it appeared, it disappears… as does her other self.  She steps out of the train and follows the flow of the crowd up and out.  Still far from her destination, she is relieved to be in the rain again.  The cool drops cleanse her of the sticky stench of the underworld.

She stands on the sidewalk entranced by the sound of rain.  TatTatTat.  TatTatTat, Splash.  TatTat Splash.  TatTatTat Splash splash SPLASH.  Honk, honkhonkhonk.  TatTatTatTat.  She wants to dance.  She wants to dance in the rain.  She wants to take her clothes off, feel the drops of heaven roll down her skin and move her limbs to the rhythm of nature and city jamming together.  She wants to feel the rain puddles in between her toes and stomp and splash to the music.  She takes off her shoes, but is greeted by cold, hard, rough cement.  The urge vaporized, she puts her shoes back on and walks downtown.  She should be going uptown, but downtown feels better.  Downtown is where you want to go when you feel like dancing naked in the rain.  She wants that feeling back.

*              *              *

She follows the aromas of distant places.  The ol`factory: processing scent marks that dot the city like a trail of crumbs leading to a destination…

Pizza: the unmistakable smell of fresh dough covered in tomato sauce filled with herbs and topped with white puddles of cheese baking in an oven hotter than hell.  The diner down the block competes with comfort foods – battered and fried crispy on the outside and gooey and heavenly on the inside.  But the donut shop and bakery down the street work in tandem to seduce the nose with the sweet smells of all that is good, and lifts the spirit and pulls it into their domain, sometimes to be lost forever.

However, even they cannot compete with what lays just further downtown.  Surreptitiously hiding in the small crisscross streets – hardly recognizable to most, but ever present – is a powerful beast ready to lurch out at the slightest movements of passersby.  Yes, it is Korea-town.  The red hot horns of the beast grounded down to make powders, pastes, soups, sauces, and of course gimchi.  Once overcome by this beast, who can resist its strength and power… the smell emitted from it at once knocks out and draws in.

But there is a contender that lives not too far away in Little India.  Spice matched with spice.  The smell of red, green, yellow, orange curries radiates through the alleyways; carried on the wings of the unmistakable aroma of freshly baked nan.  As it drifts down to Chinatown, it greets the exotic flavors of its eastern brethren. Bowing to each other and gracefully dancing in circles until they are seamlessly mixed together, they combine to form the fragrance of the orient.  And what trip to the Far East would be complete without the modest fare offered by the traditional Japanese eatery serving the salary men and women in their designer suits bedecked with blackberries.  The freshness of sashimi and homemade soba noodles creates a clean palette for the green wasabi and red miso… scents that are nearly undetectable until within its direct presence – much like a fine perfume.

But the scent she follows is of saffron and cilantro tinged with the picante flare of paprika and fried jalapenos that tickles and almost sears the inside of the nostrils.  It marks the oasis she seeks.

*              *              *

Like the red sands dunes of the Arabian deserts, the red brick walls surrounding the precious green growth threaten to swallow the bits of nature surviving the city`s barren concrete terrain.  Contained only by the black wrought iron gate, the trees claw their way up and out, over the spiked bars, threatening to escape.  It was started as a small community garden to invigorate and inspire.  Over the years the constructed boxes evolved into a truly urban wilderness with weeping willows, a babbling brook, and wild flowers tamed to conform to the winding stone path that curves its way deep into the garden.

She reaches to lift up the rusty lever that holds the gate closed.  The rough and heavy metal contradicts the airy fog that wisps around her.  As she steps from the concrete sidewalk to the natural stone path, she can feel the tingle of excitement she felt before.  She wants to bare her feet to the cool smooth granite beneath her.  She slips a foot out of its shoe and hesitantly places her toe on the path – as if afraid to disturb it.  Expecting a cold and hard welcome, she is surprised to be met with the softness of the slick surface.  She glides her toes along the rain-slathered slabs of stone, and then steps deeper onto the ball of her foot.  She smiles.  She smiles the smile of an innocent child playing in puddles of rain.  She steps down and removes her other shoe.  She walks along the path, sliding ever so subtly – walking on water.

The sweet fragrance of wild flowers folds into the misty air like a delicate summer froth.  She comes to a foot bridge.  So small, it looks almost comical as it ascends and descends in a steep semi-circle.  Just over the bridge is a small wooden bench under a weeping willow.  Weaving in and out of the curtain of branches and leaves, she lets the wetness that had settled on the tree sprinkle her with its tears.  The tree cries to see such innocence, she cries to see such pain.  Her chest heaves with the crushing weight of sadness bearing down on her.  She succumbs.  She falls to her knees at the base of the trunk and drops her head onto the bench.  She is sad for life.

She is sad for the life that lives in this lot.  The life that is never noticed, never appreciated, never loved.  Left alone in this city to be passed by, passed up, passed over… past.  What will become of her oasis?  Will it be reduced to dust?  Will it wither with neglect, or will it… go on?  Go on without her as if she has never danced in its greenery, never walked in its brook, never wept in its limbs.

Of course.  She steels up her heart, rises from the ground, and wipes the tears from her cheeks.  The sun`s light finally showers down; filtered through gauzy clouds and the leaves of trees, it comes to her like drops of gold.  She looks down at her speckled hands and arms and instead of seeing the sun`s warmth, she is instantly reminded of the sores of lepers and outcasts: terrified, she grabs her shoes and quickly finds her way to the gate.

*              *              *

She steps from her retreat to meet the bright and wild streets.  Taxis zoom past, trucks grumble by, brakes squeal as they strain to stop from hitting an errant jay walker.  She closes her eyes wanting the cool darkness to calm her.  But instead she is thrown into the hot orange glow of the sun straining to pass through her lids.  The aroma of chorizo from the Spanish restaurant next door reminds her that she hasn`t eaten since… since… when was the last time she had eaten?  When she opens her eyes, white clouds of steam burst at her.  The taco truck parked haphazardly on the curb has started its daily lunch prep, and every opening of the portable galley is pouring out thick white streams of vaporized food essences.

Her hunger drives her to action.  Though her stomach argues, she has no mind for eating; her appetite waxes and wanes of its own accord, regardless of what her body says.  Determined, she starts to walk back uptown.  Each step brings her closer to her conclusion.  Excited, she speeds up.  Her brisk walk turns into a slight jog.  Her shoes hit the pavement with a hard thumping sound.  ThumpThump.  ThumpThump.  ThumpThump.  Crossing the street, a yellow cab narrowly misses her.  She laughs.  She laughs so hard, her side starts to throb.  Already winded from her jog, she can hardly breathe.  She sucks on the air between laughs with no results.  The shallow breaths that try to enter are emptied by each guffaw: seemingly expelling more oxygen than is left in her body.  Then, in her futile attempts, she suddenly gulps down a mouthful of air and starts to choke.  Choking, Coughing, Laughing.  Absurd.  Is this the way it will happen?  Suffocating on air in a fit of maniacal laughter?  The thought strengthens the deep soundless laugh undulating in her belly.  She braces, and then, embraces.  She holds her breath, tantalizing the fates and daring them to cut the string of life that dangles before them.  But she is simply left dangling.  Out of breath, but full of health, the air she withheld helps to regain her composure.

© 2010 Lee Abbas

*NOTE: Once I am finished with the manuscript, I will begin my arduous journey of finding a Literary Agent specializing in Literary Fiction, and subsequently a Publisher.  If you liked what you read, please tell your friends!


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