The boy perched uncomfortably on the edge of the sofa, his gaze flitting from the battered teapot on the table to the mismatched cups to the patchy velvet cushion on the recliner across from him. "Gorogoa," the old man said, chuckling a little, "there's a name I haven't heard in years. Years..." he lapsed into silence, eyes distant. The boy fidgeted and glanced around the living room, peering with interest at the framed black-and-white photographs on the walls and the ornate pattern of the wallpaper. He'd heard stories about the man living here; stories from before the war, from the times of bitter, careless destruction, and the slow, painful, rebuilding after. He'd heard the word Gorogoa, half-whispered.
The old man seemed to startle and come back to himself, focusing once more on the boy in front of him. "Ah yes," he said, leaning forward to pour the lukewarm tea into a chipped mug before him. He sat back in the chair slowly, the old springs creaking a little as he settled his weight into it. "Let me tell you a story. Once
there was a man—no longer a young man, but not as old as he one day would be—who lived in the desert. He had been born in the desert and raised in the desert, under the blistering heat of the sun, with the sand and the clear blue sky as his constant companions. He was-"
The old man paused and patted his pockets,
searching for something.
"Ah," he said, pulling a pair of reading spectacles from the front of his worn cardigan, "much better." He slid them on and smiled genially at the boy, who smiled back uncertainly. "He was the bellringer. You see, there was a city in the desert, and a great high wall all around the city. The man had never been inside the city.
At night, he could peer over the rippling waves of sand and clean white brick, over the ridged crenellations of the wall, and glimpse a vast swath of dark blue, dotted with
and meteors, streaking overhead. And the man would dream of
what lay inside."
The old man coughed and reached for his mug, only to find it empty. The boy jumped up immediately, eager to be of use, and ran into the kitchen to fill a glass with water. He clattered through the cabinets with the sort of barely-controlled chaos present in all children, and found the glasses on the bottom shelf above the sink. He paused momentarily as he was reaching up, his gaze drawn towards the kitchen window where he could see the mismatched roofs of the city—and beyond them
an expanse of trees, stretching out as far as the eye could see,
each connected to the next by a network of invisible lines
beneath the soil. He could almost hear the whispering of the leaves, a quiet murmur of conversation and growth beneath the setting sun. Each night,
he liked to imagine, the trees stretched a little bit higher, a little bit deeper into the earth. There was a rustle from the living room and the boy shook himself out of his reverie. As he turned away from the window a flash of movement caught his eye, but when he turned—quickly, eagerly—he could see only the trees and the city. He grabbed the glass and filled it with cool water, the fading rays of sunlight accompanied him back to the living room where he carefully set the water down on the coffee table.
"Thank you, my boy." The old man smiled and took a slow sip of water as the boy settled back on the couch.
He lit a lamp,
luring out from hiding, a moth, irresistibly drawn to the light
and sat back again with a sigh. "It always comes," he said thoughtfully, regarding the moth. "It always comes,
each night, a moth, reaching and reaching for a light that it does not understand but desperately wishes to."
They watched the moth dance back and forth, sometimes resting on a dusty book on the shelf or on the stone fragment of a statue leaning against the table leg, but returning and returning the lamp each time. "And then?" the boy prompted, after a moment of silence.
"And then," the old man continued, "each day, the man would circle the city, ringing his bell and thinking about the wall.
You see, the man in the desert was
sure that something wonderful and strange and terrible lay there, just out of reach. Something bigger than the small piece of the world visible to the naked eye, connected in winding, unknowable ways.
Sometimes he caught a glimpse of it, just out of the corner his eye, just around the next turn. And at night, he would dream..."
The old man's voice trailed off,
his eyes slowly drifting shut. Then,
for a moment, the shadow of twisting, branching spines blocked the light and
cast a dappled pattern of moonlight and shadow across the room.
The moth fluttered off
as he sank into the sleep, his dreams strange and tangled, only the sound of his soft breathing filtering
through the room. The boy stared out the window, caught by the vivid greens and golds and reds he had seen, just for a moment, just visible above the irregular patchwork of buildings. Then, quietly so as not to disturb the old man, he got off the couch and tiptoed to the door, sliding it carefully shut behind him as he stepped out
into the night air.