Author: Jeremy Nathan Marks

I live in Mississauga, a city that builds dozens of downtown towers every year, the finest towers in the world. Each morning, I watch cranes move like long legged birds along the pond of the horizon. They bow and raise their heads, plucking at things which they lift toward the heavens in a stacking formation. The cranes also like to fasten things together. They cross a soundless, formless space. I find their avian ballet dazzling.

I live in an older tower that is not downtown. It is short and squat compared to what now goes up. If we still had a concept of history, people might say my building and those around it are historic. But my tower is an embarrassment. It is fat and slouches while the new ones are rail thin with perfect posture. Every new tower, so long as it remains new, throws a message across the night sky: ‘I am the thinnest building in the world! If you live inside me, you will become thin, too!’

This message is for people like me, who live far enough away from downtown that we can actually see it suspended above the sky like a rain cloud.

These new towers really are a marvel. On each floor, they sport condos that are mere 200 square feet in total surface area. The height of their ceilings is but six feet, which allows a two-thousand-footer to boast over three hundred floors.

My neighbors complain all the time that our tower is an abomination. Why would anyone need 450 square feet, and how to justify seven-foot ceilings? I tell them that I have been inside the new towers, more than ten of them, and I insist that our appliances are superior, our rooms more commodious and better furnished. But they do not believe me. In Mississauga, what is not new is old no matter how new it was. If it is not the newest, it cannot be new.

A few months ago, the builders dynamited our city park which used to sit smack in the middle of downtown. The park was filled with oaks that remained green year-round. They were ancient trees, some with trunks fifteen feet around. But what I liked best about them was how they dripped with webbed, wispy moss. Every time a slight breeze shook the park, the trees looked like a woman shaking out her hair.

The explosion came early in the morning. When I heard it, I rushed to my balcony in time to see trunks shoot up into the sky like rockets. Splinters of wood rained down over the city, and part of a branch landed on my porch. To my relish, it had intact leaves, and a slight piece of moss. I lacquered it for display over my couch so cocktail guests would take notice. So far, no one has while our former park has become a canyon filled with land moving equipment. I think our city’s motto should be, ‘What you want today you will scorn tomorrow.’

I recall that park in spite of myself. It was kept alive by a fleet of drones that made rain showers each dawn, dusk and, when it was especially hot, in the late afternoon. I used to watch the rain drones make their daily deluge. The sound of the rain’s swish had the power to cool me off. And since water can only be purchased in our city, no one was permitted anywhere near the park during rain time. I was fined when a single drop landed on my arm as I stood, beyond the cordons, more than 100 yards away from the park boundary. That one drop cost me 100 dollars.

But what I remember best is the feeling I got from those trees when their moss touched my face. I had a woman once who caressed me like moss. She’d come to visit and spend hours running her fingertips along my forehead, temples, cheeks, nose, around my lips, and along my jaw. She would not touch me anywhere else, and her fingers stirred my skin like a breeze. After she moved downtown, I never saw her again.

In the downtown, every resident lives behind a series of screens tuned to one of six channels. You can pick a forest, a shore, a desert, a garden, a mountain top, or a game park. No buildings allow natural light or the outside landscape to filter in, so when you live in downtown Mississauga, you never see Mississauga. I struggle to think of my city as an actual place since most people talk only of where they live and where they should be living. And if someone lives where they should be living, they talk of nothing at all, they merely wait, anticipating what comes next.

I miss being touched. I run my fingertips over my face but do not get the same results. I have thought of moving downtown, too, but I doubt I will encounter that woman. After all, there are so many buildings now and who is to say she has not found other faces? Which is why I regret lacquering the moss on the dead oak branch.

What if I had hung it in my shower to keep it growing? I could have gone to it each day and tickled my skin with its webs. But it is too late for that.