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23. Decrease

Updated: Dec 18, 2020



So the time of decline had come. People did not notice it for a while, except those who were the most estranged from the city. The city was falling apart, little by little, and nobody cared. The canals were filling with rubbish, navigation was fouled. The great towers that were built fifty years before were broken at the top; there was only the debris of masonry. A few men, men living on the outskirts, recognised the decrease and destruction. They noticed the debased coins that bent in their hands. They noticed the rubbish building up in the city, where once there were busy thoroughfares and trade. The disillusioned men met to discuss the decline of the city. They shared drinks, coffees and beers. They lamented the situation—some, the most sensitive, the most artistic, actually wept. They published manifestos and resolutions, but these all came to nothing. Nobody paid any attention; they were too busy making money, and the best way to make money in the city was to sell off the patrimony. The city’s reserves of gold and silver and lead were sold to distant merchants. The profits were, actually, modest for what was sold, but these modest profits were enough for the cynical adventurers.

“Nobody thinks about the consequences, nobody thinks about tomorrow,” complained one old man to the butcher. The butcher nodded and agreed; he cut a slab of meat for the old man. He did not care; he merely agreed with his customers for the sake of business. A man has to make his living somehow and the best thing is not to upset people too much; just let the money flow and try not think of anything unhappy. This was how people lived in the last days of the city.

“That child is so large, you could roll him down a hill,” said the old colonel, raising a mug of beer to his lips. The child bumbled past the window, his image, distorted in the glass, forming a grotesque visage—a glass hobgoblin. His drinking partner agreed. They lamented the decline of the city’s health and the great porcine masses fed on cheap bread and beer. “Then again,” said the colonel’s friend, “we like a beer or two ourselves, who are we to talk?” The colonel fixed him with eyes narrowed beneath bushy eyebrows. So many men were like this; they had given up in their hearts years and years ago. They could not be awakened from the slumber that would end in death.

In a small bedroom-apartment, a magician works a spell. The spell takes up the entire room, it is drawn on great sheets of paper that cover every wall in the room. He is determined to discover the secret of life. He is determined that he should be reborn—and his city along with him. This dream, the fountain of eternal youth, ends badly. His room catches fire one night when he is still two months from completing the spell. The magician is burned in the fire and carried to the hospital. In a dank corridor, to the sound of dripping water, he looks up at the drunk doctor. “It will all be better, won’t it?” he asks. The doctor gives a curt nod; he has not really heard what was said. The nurses tend the magician in a careless way, sponging his wounds. They forgot what to do a long time ago.

The man screams in pain, but nobody comes to him. Outside, the city lights fade on and off. The city is dimming with him; the city is going to its tomb. The fires rise from the rubbish heaps on the street. The corrupt politicians pocket gold coin. The magician tries to remember his spell, his stone; the words dance on the ceiling. His pulse dips. He props himself up on a pillow. A foot falls on the stairs, avoiding a patient resting there. At midnight, the magician dies. He was the last in the city.

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