Second in a monthly series of excerpts from The Book of All Cities.
Ponge, as its inhabitants will tell you, is a thoroughly unattractive city. "Well," they always say at the mention of any horrible news, "we do live in Ponge."
A survey taken by the smallest and most cantankerous newspaper in Ponge (a city of many small cantankerous newspapers), the Ponge Poodle, claims that the inhabitants of Ponge (Pongians, according to the League of Concerned Pongians; Pongeans, according to Pongeans for a Better Ponge; Pongarians, according to the Proactive Society for Immediate Pongarian Betterment -- but you get the idea) have 29% more quarrels than the average, and half again more excuses per capita than the inhabitants of any other city in the world.
Among the favorite excuses that each Pongarian (or whatever) treasures is his or her excuse for not moving to Strafrax, the safer, cleaner, nicer, more exciting, and more meaningful city across the River Dunge. "I was planning to move there last month," says Ruthie Mex, "but my cat got the flu." "The cigar import taxes there are too high," says Candice Blunt, who smokes no cigars. "My mother's grave is here," says Mortimer Mung. "I would only be disappointed," says Fish Williams.
Oddly, deep in their hearts, the citizens of Ponge are happier than those of Strafrax. Ponge's motto is "What Did You Expect?" and the Pongeans (etc.) whisper it to themselves in bed at night as they think back on the day's events. "Well, what did you expect?" they think smugly, pugnaciously. "What did you expect? We live in Ponge."
Strafrax's motto is "Anything Can Happen," and you can imagine where that leads.
Copyright © 2001 Benjamin Rosenbaum
Image © 2000 Lee Moyer.
Benjamin Rosenbaum lives in Basel, Switzerland, with his wife and baby daughter, where in addition to scribbling fiction and poetry, he programs in Java (well) and plays rugby (not very well). He attended the Clarion West Writers' Workshop in 2001 (the Sarong-Wearing Clarion). His work has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction and Writer Online. His previous appearances in Strange Horizons can be found in our Archive. For more about him, see his Web site.