V.V. was dreaming a dream. In his dream he saw before his eyes a parade of cities, prancing and proud. Each city was an animal. Paris was a turtle drinking Chardonnay. Berlin was an inside out hedgehog, running very fast. Ningpo was a sea lion, bashful, suffering from the clap; she leaned in to croon a few sweet nothings in his ear. Snowy New York (in this dream) swooped in to flap her wings in Verily’s face—and refused to leave.
“Fair beleaguered municipality, home and companion to me throughout all these sodden years, kindly desist from this detestable haranguing!” V.V. managed through a mouthful of feathers. Blind, sputtering, he nevertheless offered respectfully the crook of his index finger as a perch. The city instead coolly moved to peck his eyes out. The last sensation his body registered was that of a reptilian Jersey City slithering up the skin of his bare calf, the sudden contraction of its muscles a gorgeous shock.
Verily’s screams broke out into the air-conditioned silence of his Waikiki hut.
As his breathing slowed, the meaning of the dream unfurled in his pulsing consciousness. It was simple, splendid, even funny. V.V. did not need his analyst—an intransigent Brennerian who ended each of V.V.’s sessions with a patient description of the pseudopenis of the female hyena—to perceive its magnificent implications.
Equally obvious to our hero was the course of action now required of him. In a pleasant daze, Verily shook off the tangle of his silk sheets and impatiently rifled through his drawers. It was only after some difficulty that he produced the desired articles: a book of matches won at the 1964 World’s Fair, a subway token purchased in that same era, and a tin can of pungent kerosene. He ordered his valet to ready the jet.
When V.V. arrived at the museum, he found that it was as he remembered: sprawled before him was the twinkling circuitry of a toy city. Not New York, but an idea of New York, the City’s painstaking re-imagining as something finite, solid, and combustible. It was a replica of the city V.V. had seen from the windows of his aircraft, from a long way away. (Across from him, in the tomb-like depths of outer space, V.V. could make out a pair of faces lit up by smartphones, conversing animatedly. “I’ve just started and I’m so behind! I know the blue one is the best but I’ve always had a thing for the electric bird, you know? How did you know which one to join?” “I took a Buzzfeed quiz.” “Oh!”)
In the panorama itself two blinking planes flew across the sky on strings. Verily avoided staring too long at the model’s Eastern edge; he felt it would be rather like touching his own brain. Snaking along the outer boroughs until he was looking down one of Manhattan’s droll little coastlines, Verily lit a cigarette. He imagined dropping his burning fuse directly onto Columbia’s campus, imagined crackling flames lighting up a kerosene-slick Butler, John Jay, Alma Mater, and consuming, with damning speed, the whole engorged ruin of the faux-island borough he had once loved.
(“But would you ever do the red one? Maybe I’m overthinking this but I don’t want to make decisions too fast! I’ll have to live with it forever.” “Liz, just pick a damn team. It’s not like it’s real life.”)
A false dawn bloomed over the metropolis, stilling V.V.’s hand. He steeled himself for the task ahead, reciting under his breath, We only live, only suspire/consumed by fire or fire...
Who then devised the torment? Night fell again but this time, V.V.’s heart felt different. He dropped his half-finished cigarette into the Hudson and walked out of the exhibit, out of the museum, into the real world. He met the sun’s sempiternal gaze with relief.