Frederick Mason is dead. His next-door neighbor Mrs. Potter reported a smell to the landlord who then opened Mr. Mason’s apartment to find the old man dead. The coroner said Mr. Mason had been gone for a week, slumped over on his ratty couch. No one had been surprised not to see him outside. In fact, they were happy not to. Mr. Mason was not a pleasant man. He was the sort of old man who glared at a friendly hello. He subsisted on TV dinners. He had no pets. There were no next-of-kin, no friends to contact. There were no pictures around the apartment, no evidence of a lost life. He was buried in a pauper’s grave, unmarked by the City. Even the gravedigger barely noticed Mr. Mason as he buried him without thought.
Mr. Mason’s apartment was a health hazard. Stacks of newspapers lay on nearly every surface, highly piled in precarious chronologies. Old news and magazine clippings lined the walls, Mr. Mason’s own makeshift decor. The clippings covered the windows so he could not see out and only streaked, sepia-toned light could filter in. Many of the clippings had faded to barely legible print. A couple of pieces had Mr. Mason’s name on them, many discussed the City itself. The cleaners despised the papers for making their job harder as they took their razors to the walls and windows. If they or anyone else had bothered to read, they would have realized Mr. Mason had once been Somebody.
You see, Mr. Mason built this city. It was the most modern of places, the cleanest of municipalities, a pharos of progress and prosperity. It shone with steel and glass, and hummed with life. It sparkled radiant, a true beacon on a hill. His city was a grand clockwork of society, a million little pieces that functioned in harmony. It was the pinnacle of design and construction, and Mr. Mason was its architect. He saw lines no one had ever dreamed of. He made buildings that reached the sky, that made men conjure dreams of reaching beyond the stars. He made her beautiful, his city. He poured his life into her, breathed it into her to make her as alive as any person he knew.
But Mr. Mason had lived too long, so long that he saw his beloved treasure become worthless trash. Men came after him, insisting on building objects that cluttered his city, choked her with filth. With time, they tore down Mr. Mason’s ingenious designs to make way for garish supermarkets and drab strip malls. They widened roads for superhighways that cut slices across the City’s heart like gaping wounds. They replaced parks and ponds with repetitive subdivisions named after parks and ponds.
For a while, Mr. Mason fought them. He worked on preservation committees and led heritage societies. He spoke at rich charity events full of overstuffed, over-liquored businessmen who cared for nothing but the bottom line and their own conveniences. He picketed the tearing down of theaters and galleries. He argued at City Hall for open spaces, for historic landmarks, for preserving the unique voice of his city. But it was all for nothing. They continued to tear down and build atop his lovely city’s mutilated corpse, her soul deadened beneath it all.
Mr. Mason lived too long and he knew it. So he stayed in his city as they both slowly died, as they both became increasingly decrepit and dank and forgotten. He had no desire to see her and yet he could not leave her. He no longer recognized himself or her when his time came, the tattered shells they had become. And when Frederick Mason breathed his last, so died the last man who believed the City was alive. And therefore she ceased to be so.
A Kentucky farm country native, J. Jordan Stivers currently lives in California. She likes to run, cook, play video games, and read about Russian history. A granddaughter of sheep farmers, she also occasionally knits but it rarely turns out wearable.