I originally wrote this for a creative writing class in 2001, a few days after the Twin Towers were struck. I was invited to read it at a private reading for Writer’s Night at Celestial Seasonings Headquarters in 2002. It was later published in Plains Paradox in 2003. But mostly it’s been in my computer. Seems like a good time to bring it out, today, September 11, 2019.
A parable of the Twin Towers
There was once a place, a small place in the big scheme of things, where people of many colors lived. Some were blue, some red, some yellow, and many shades in between. Some were short with big, round noses; some had little, pointy noses and were very, very, tall. A few were round with squatty legs, and more than a few were square with long, twisty legs, like soda straws. Some liked spaghetti, some liked rich creamy food, some would never eat a pig, and lots of them liked beer.
They lived and worked in very tall buildings
Buildings made of glass and chrome and steel, surrounded by concrete and blacktop and the honks of cabbies and black bus exhaust that screamed down their throats. They knew not the world that was beyond their borders, (though that world knew of them), but only this place of their own making. They bought and sold – everything. Shiny red bicycles, pink and blue wagons painted with clouds, pills that made them happy, pills that made them sleepy, airplanes, and trucks and refrigerators. If it was for sale, they bought it. If they owned it, they sold it. If someone else owned it, they would sell that too, just because that’s what they did. They wore suits and ties, and shoes polished like mirrors. Their coattails were always flying, even when there was no wind. They knew not calm, only rush.
The day came …
…when the world outside their tall, tall buildings (which knew about them, but which they did not know about), ripped open the sky over their heads and crashed into their world. It took them by great surprise, like a bird flying overhead that drops a nasty present on your head. The buildings were crippled; their guts spilled everywhere. Fire and smoke billowed from the windows, people jumped to the pavement below. The rush stopped dead. The color stopped. Life changed. The people of blue and red and yellow were covered with sticky, gray soot. Their suits were gray; their faces were gray. Their shoes, no longer polished like mirrors, were gray too.
There was still a lot to sell, and some tried for a while. “Bananas for sale,”’ they cried, but their echoing voices were lost in the clamor. Nobody wanted to buy. They didn’t care anymore about their shoes polished like mirrors. They cared about the people who were bleeding and the people who jumped. They cared about those in the tall, tall, buildings who couldn’t get out.
Evil had visited them that day.
It thundered through their streets like a dragon gone mad, spitting flaming orange sparks wrapped in black. The ground wrestled like it was in a catfight with itself.
They had heard of evil, and of good. They’d read about them in storybooks when they were young; and Grandma had told them tales. But weren’t those just the tall, tall tales of an old woman? Weren’t those things that used to happen, a long, long time ago? Hadn’t good and evil fizzled out with canned peaches and root cellars? Life in the shadow of the tall, tall buildings was different from Grandma’s day. Life consisted of buying and selling and selling and buying, and having shinier and taller buildings and that was all, period. But evil visited that day.
If evil was right there in their very laps where they could not deny it, then where was good?
They began to search for it. What did good look like? Would they know it if they saw it? They searched between the shards of glass and under twisted steel. They found a pair of hands; not hands attached to arms, just hands. They knew that was not good. They brought in dogs to look for good, but the evil they searched through cut their feet and turned them gray too. They looked for good for days upon days, and then they stopped. “There is no good,” they said.
But in the world beyond their tall, tall towers, unchanged for eons and ages and almost as old as God Himself, were towers of a different kind – granite mountains so tall that even air was scarce. It was there, among the crags, that the river from snow made of crystals, began. Every year, for years beyond counting, the river wandered. When the people who lived and worked in the tall, tall towers were buying and selling it wandered; it wandered just the same when they were covered in gray.
In no hurry at all…
…the river gurgled past skies the color of royalty, and drank the tints of lemon drop trees pierced by autumn’s sun. It soaked up the reds cast by crimson bushes spotted with orange and blue berries. Little waves, tipped with the dance of tiny diamond fairies, wound lazily through rust-red boulders, caressing each one gently, as a mother cups her palms around baby’s cheeks and slowly lowers them to her lap.
The river, laden with color, came all the way to the edge of the glamorous city of steel and chrome and glass. But it didn’t go in. It parted on either side and ran off to the ocean. Once it had run through the city, a long, long, time ago, in the days when shade trees lined the lanes, and moms strolled their babes, and dads tipped their hats. But then it didn’t any more. The city didn’t care about the river. They couldn’t buy it or sell it.
But when the smoke and gray billowed through their streets, they remembered the river. Sooty-gray fire trucks with sirens wailing and bells clanging raced to the river and sucked up its water to spray at the tall, tall towers melting like candles. The orange sparks wrapped in black splatted to the ground. Steam rose. The water began to trickle through the streets. It wrapped around the ankles of those who were too numb to move, but could only watch. It poured from the eyes of many. Those who searched, with head in hands, saw it run out their eyes leaving tracks down the gray dust on their arms and fall into a puddle at their feet. The water was held in little paper cups, by trembling hands pressed to gray lips, leaving a mustache of green or purple or pink. Some just sat in the gutters and let the water run over them. As they looked into the shine that was returning to their shoes, there was just a touch of color staring back at them.
The fire engines raced to the river again and again…
…and the river was never less for all that they took. They sprayed the water higher and higher. From higher and higher colors streaked down where the gray drizzled away. Hints of red and white and blue appeared in the haze of steam and fog and dust. The waters made their way through the shards of glass and twisted steel. The dragon lost its grip on the towers’ shattered skeletons clenched in its talons.
The river eventually came back to the heart of the city that was once steel and chrome and glass. It carried away the gray of that day, until crimson, and royal blues, and the gold of lemon drop trees pierced by autumn’s sun dappled tree-lined streets, and diamond fairies danced in the morning dew on emerald lawns. Moms strolled their babes, cupping their palms gently around tiny cheeks before lowering them to their laps, and Dads tipped their hats with a, “How do you do.”
They knew not rush, only calm.
The people of pink and purple and green, and many shades in between, again cared about the river that began so high that even air was scarce. It would never be bought, nor sold. It was priceless.
While never intending to, evil had made a way for good.