The Artificial Mountain
Well we were all set to build Indiana’s first official mountain. But then some folks showed up all yelling about how this mountain we were building might destroy some habitats. “There’s no need to worry about that, folks,” our foreman said. “What we’re gonna do is build this mountain from one-hundred-percent natural habitat. If anything we’ll be adding thousands of tons more habitat to your state, in an upward direction.” Well this got them to squawking amongst themselves. One old man came forward and asked did we have a permit. “Everything by the book,” said the foreman. “Fact of the matter is we have a book full of permits, for anything you’d like.” Did we have a permit for falling in love with one’s own sister? Yessir, we did, and the foreman handed a copy of it to the old man. The old man smiled to break your heart. He called out, “Bitty!” and an old woman appeared out of the crowd with a sort of glow all over her face. It was the sweetest thing you’d ever seen, those two old people coming together after what must have been years. They held hands and ambled back to their car. The foreman waved them off with his hat in his hand, and wished them luck, and we turned to start on our mountain.
Amid general concern over the decline of opera in our community and the world at large, Beth Anne Trenton, soprano, has begun singing on street corners across the city. All of us at the Indianapolis Council for the Arts greatly appreciate her efforts, though we wonder, from time to time, if they are not, perhaps, misspent. As far as anyone can tell, she’s been singing since the Thursday before last, and her voice is becoming ragged and out-of-shape. I park my car on Guilford, across from the Kroger, and there she is beneath the streetlight, singing Eurydice’s lament, “Che fiero momento,” spinto above the sound of a parking lot half-full of idling cars. I can only wonder at what sort of long-term damage she’s doing to her throat. Her husband left her for one of his students from Ivy Tech, a skinny, hunched-over nursing major who had taken his Great Thinkers of the Twentieth Century as an elective and has now given herself over to philosophy. One can see her from time to time struggling over a new paperback copy of Heidegger in the back of the café where she works on Massachusetts Ave, sitting on the radiator between shifts. In the evening Mr. Trenton will arrive and they will pretend this is the first time he’s met her, here at the café. He’ll act surprised to see her reading something so hefty and ask if she’s getting at any eternal truths. “The possible ranks higher than the actual,” she will read, sweetly and haltingly, and she will bite the knuckle of her pinky, smiling at Mr. Trenton, who with his expensive grey sweaters and small, peering eyes, represents the sort of life she’s begun to think she’d want for herself. Later that night they will fall asleep in her apartment, his sweater bunched up on the floor next to the dry aquarium that serves as a makeshift table for her textbooks. Let us be absolutely clear: the Indianapolis Council for the Arts does not approve of Mr. Trenton’s actions, particularly in the light of what those actions are doing to one of the greatest sopranos our city has yet seen; nonetheless, all of us on the Council do understand, in certain moments, the horrible pull of the possible in the face of the actual.
The Hall of Classified Information
Several prominent members of the public declare that the Hall of Classified Information is an anachronism. A hallway full of cabinets, and inside the cabinets the most highly-classified secrets typed out on actual pieces of paper—it’s an embarrassment to any modern nation. The secrets should be stored electronically, encrypted, on up-to-date supercomputers. But the Hall, with its cabinets, its secret knocks and handshakes, persists. Unlike more pragmatic government facilities, the Hall is elegant, with well-kept, solid wood floors and marble statues that few will ever see. The archivists—there are two of them, one a little older—spend their days checking the clearance levels of Congressmen, Senators, members of the reputable Intelligence Community, members of organizations whose existence is officially denounced or denied. Government and military secrets are classified here, but so is other information, as well—the recipes for all of the major sodas, for example, as well as a detailed and true timeline of the events just before the Big Bang. There are pages in the Hall so highly classified that no one now living is cleared to see them, and so remain untouched, another dry tongue in the cabinet’s closed mouth. The two archivists don’t know each other’s names. Both are unmarried, and live alone, though this, too, is classified. They eat their lunch together at the back of the Hall, near a statue of Night and Forgetfulness protecting, with daggers drawn, the honor of a voluptuous nude representation of the State. The younger archivist has packed for himself a sandwich and some pasta salad, the older a quiche and a cupcake with sprinkles. The archivists eat in silence, each secretly jealous of the home life he imagines, looking at the other’s lunch.