From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Light On The Water

49 loved the hotel across the river, and that spring, when fog covered her, he knew he had to tell her.

She was all by herself on that side of the river, just her and the rocky shore and the long highway that wound in a ribbon far behind her, and she seemed always so lonely he wanted her to know she was not unloved.

He thought maybe he could court her, but all the life in him left at 5pm, and by the time the sun set all 49 could do was sit in the dark and watch her lights blinking on and off like the notes of a song.


49 envied 47, who had people living in him. Sometimes two of 47’s insides fought, and 49 pressed all his beams closer to listen, wondering what it must be like to be so alive all the time, to feel them breathing up against your walls at night as they slept.

He thought about the hotel filled up all night with people to shelter, and his every rafter ached.


He stopped his elevator to see if the people would stay, but they took his eighteen flights of stairs in their haste to be away from him, and the next day no one came at all except the repairman. The repairman must have known what was going on, because he only kicked the open doors until 49 closed them. Then he went home and no one came again all that day, and 49 sat aching for the lives inside of the little hotel until it was morning and 49’s people came back.

But 49 saw he had done something, at last, in his favor; when his people came back that morning they worked into the night to make up for lost time, and light from his windows fell across the water in bright snakes, in poems; the little hotel across the way saw it, must have known what it meant, because a matching pattern of windows filled all the dark places on the water until the whole river between them was ablaze.


49 sent two pigeons with a paper cup from his roof, and they brought back half a croissant, and so 49 and the hotel were engaged.

His foundations shook when they knew.

Before 49 there had been a warehouse; 47 and 49 and 50 and 48 across the street had all been one big warehouse alive with thrumming machines, and they shared the memory of the ratcheting and the in-and-out file of workers and the deep, solid satisfaction that the best building was one in which things got done.

A hotel; a temporary house for strangers; it was of no use at all, it was abominable, and the deep beams in the earth trembled and shifted.

49 wished he was like 47, who went blithely on day and night with people to care for, who couldn’t hear the disappointed rumblings amidst his squabbling, laughing, breathing insides. He wished his windows opened, so he could feel the river wind blow all the way through him, instead of just battering his front like his foundations battered him from beneath.

But he didn’t return the croissant; he had given his word to the little hotel.

After a few days the croissant was gone, but the pigeons remained, and in a little corner behind the roof-access door they built a nest on top of an old pipe. 49 shut down his ventilation at night, so that when they settled in no noise would wake them, and he thought what a beautiful gift the hotel had given him.


For the wedding her windows gleamed in the sun, and his blinds were all pulled down so she wouldn’t see he was shabby. In the high wind 47 and 48 and 50 swayed and moaned their congratulations, but across the river there was only the little hotel and the wide road, and she stood apart and alone.

49 hoped she was happy, and that the congratulations reached her.


He found it most surprising that she liked his calm; she liked when the shades were up after dark and she could see his quiet, empty insides. He wished he could take some of her people, which were chaotic and always changing, insides that didn’t care for her like she cared for them. They stayed awake all night with their lamps on in the windows, and she never rested until they rested.

On still nights, the little mosaic of light lay across the river, so close that if he could stretch out his shadow he could touch them.


For a long time there was just the long road behind the little hotel, so when the cranes and the trucks came both 49 and the hotel knew what was happening, and were filled with joy.

The people laid out grids for a line of buildings along the road, stood together and pointed at this place or that place, and behind them the road filled with bulldozers and trailers and rolls of insulation.

49 was glad that the hotel would have some buildings close, some others to help block the worst of the wind and the sun, and to keep her from being afraid in the dark so far away from him.

When they emptied the hotel of her people, he wondered why; when 47 had been rebuilt 49’s insides had continued to come and go, grumbling about the noise.

For a week she was still, and trucks took away loads of furniture from inside her and brought in flats of laced-down steel girders, and at night she sat empty and the moon moved across the blank windows.

On the eighth morning they stood apart from her and pushed the detonators, and in the bright sun the little hotel across the river collapsed into herself and sank with no other sound but a sigh.

The ground under 49 shook with the impact; his pigeons took flight, and he so he stood alone and empty and looked across the way, where there was nothing left of the little hotel but dust.


49 grieved for the hotel; he grieved until his roof sagged, he turned away his sight until his windows cracked, and so complete was his sadness that he didn’t notice that his people had left until the notice went up on his ground floor: FOR SALE.

He leaned against 47 and listened to all the people living; two children on the third floor ran up and down the halls, and their footsteps trembled against the mortar.

He had no sight outside himself, and didn’t care that the people who bought him tore him apart until only his shell was left; even then they altered him, changing his windows and scraping away the gray paint on his doors.

But they built new walls inside him, new walls and plumbing, and despite himself 49 became interested in what was happening to him, wondering what he would become. Then one day the repairman came to put in the gas lines for stoves and he realized he was getting insides of his own, people who would live within him, people he could care for and protect and who would go to sleep inside of him.

This was a transformation he could not believe, until he looked around him; 47 was still holding his people, but across the way staid 50 and 48 had gotten the same treatment – he could see that inside 50 people were already beginning to live, hanging curtains and leaving lamps on at night, little warm teeth in 50’s long-empty face.

The people put new windows in 49, looking out over the river, and by that time he was brave enough to look where his little hotel had been.

It was a park, now, tucked between a restaurant and some shops painted bright colors; children gathered along the riverbank and threw bread to the ducks until the light faded. As it got dark, one by one they left, and where the little hotel had stood now all was soft and green and quiet, resting for the morning without any human noise.

One light in the park stayed on, glowing from behind the tall clock on the pillar that stood in the very center of the wide green; its light just reached the water, and floated there like the first word of a letter she had left him, like a single note of a song.

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