The Cataracts 

In a dark palazzo, the traveler approached what looked to be a great wooden dais. Through the arched windows on the far side of the chamber, he saw aquamarine canals and the pastel facades of the villas perched along their banks. Dark gondolas darted past. Magnificent stone statues stood vigil throughout the chamber, elaborate scrolls and rich paintings hung from the walls. A great, robed woman lay stretched out upon the wooden dais. As he came closer, he realized that the wooden dais was a gigantic type box, a box filled with thousands of dark squares, each one capable of carrying a lead type the size of a crate. Some of these were scattered around the dais, and a mess of printed papers fluttered in the breeze blowing from the canals through the dark arches. The woman asleep on the type box possessed a grandeur and glory that defied words. She was long, fair and slept with one cheek propped on her bent arm, the other arm was thrown dramatically outward, trailing off the dais, as though pointing to the discarded scraps of text that floated in the air or the disarray of the glinting italics in the sides and tops of the huge types. As ancient as time, and yet as youthful as a virgin, her skin glowed with a faint silver radiance. Her imperishable robes, though delicate and intricately woven of platinum threads, were covered with a light film of dust and almost imperceptible cobwebs. Near the bottom hem, he descried the letter pi; at the top, an elegantly pleated theta. A long ladder thronged with angels, saints and abstract spirits rose from the pi to the theta. Despite the beauty of the designs and the incorruptible material itself, the robe was torn, exposing her nudity, which gleamed with the sad pallor of sunless days. She looked almost bloodless, her lips and nipples almost blue, her eyelids dark with fatigue. The more he gazed upon her, the more she seemed to resemble a marble statue from a drowned garden. In the blue twilight of the room, he watched as her skin changed. The robe melted into rivulets of silver water and rolled from her now golden, now luscious and youthful skin. Within seconds, as though written in invisible ink, lines and words appeared all over her body, activated by his own silent breath that had drifted over to her form. Drawing even closer, he saw a map spread out upon her figure. Marked with the lines of rivers, the borders of kingdoms, the markings of living cities and of vanished cities, her skin rippled like the surface of a lake. The legends blurred and reconfigured, the names of the cities and kingdoms appeared in every imaginable type and font, and drifted in and out of view with the subtlety of smoke. He began to search the map, studying every geographical formation, every trade route and secret paradise, every terrestrial hell and valley of shadow. The blood drained from his cheeks and he felt his strength leave his limbs as a dark, bloody gash appeared on her abdomen, but instead of blood, a flood of saltwater gurgled up, pouring out of the red gate. Staring into the cataract within her wound, he saw an architectonic labyrinth of waterfalls within. With horror he saw that he held a sword dripping with gore. Throwing it to the ground, he tried to wash his hands in the jets of saltwater streaming out of her. The blood vanished, but he continued washing. Frantic, he parted the cataracts like curtains, and stepped into her wound, walking through naves of water in search of something that he could not quite name. Tremendous torrents sounded around him. Everywhere he looked, he saw drifting spray and plunging quicksilver. After walking for miles, beyond the last cataract, he found an immense night full of moons, planets, and stars glowing and pulsing above a great sea. There in that immense night full of magic celestial lanterns of many soft colours, he walked into the sea until he was fully immersed. For three days and nights, he walked along the ocean floor, only to emerge at the far end on the threshold of the amber morning star that blazed like a tiger’s eye marble, casting x-ray images of his skeleton on the dark, sandy shores where his shadow would have fallen. Weightless, his body took flight into the star.

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