Ninth in a monthly series of excerpts from The Book of All Cities.
Jouiselle-aux-Chantes is the city of erotic forgetting.
The spores of a certain mushroom produce dementia in those who find themselves in Jouiselle-aux-Chantes in the spring. Those who have grown up there are somewhat resistant: they treat the spring as a time to be very careful doing business, a time when everyone is slightly drunk. But visitors to Jouiselle-aux-Chantes in the spring display all the symptoms of senility: they do not recognize their own wives and husbands; they forget their names, professions, and histories.
The wise city fathers of Jouiselle-aux-Chantes, rather than treating the spores as a calamity, have marketed their city as an erotic paradise. Couples coming to Jouiselle-aux-Chantes forget their rivalries and resentments, and frolic and cuddle as if meeting again for the first time. Businesswomen's hearts race like schoolgirls'; sailors blush; kisses are clumsy but full of promise. If a debutante propositions the gardener working in her parents' garden, it can produce no scandal; if a priest forgets his vows, it is no sin.
In the fall, the mushrooms die, and the cool air clears everyone's head. Most of the tourists go home -- confused, but treasuring snatches of memory of the high life they lived in Jouiselle-aux-Chantes. But there are always those for whom the season of forgetfulness is their undoing, for whom the return of memory is cruel.
In the fall, the grave diggers always have plenty to do.
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.