The City of Open Air Asylums

by Victor D Sandiego | Published: Apr 18, 2023

Nothing existed before his blindness. The past too was sightless. For uncounted time he lay enclosed in darkness alone with disjointed thoughts in his dark world. A voice said wake and he stood, a boy in a lighted room next to his father in bed who slow exhaled a tubercular life. A voice said sleep and again his eyes filled with unyielding black. He breathed quiet and slow another long time in the dark. A voice said wake and the final fire in the world entered. Illuminated his cell. He sat alone, naked, adult. Skin translucent and spotted. Clothes lay nearby, he dressed. A stairwell, descent. A sign read Hospital St. Thomas. He pushed open the door to a city street filled with nimble light and life.

Can you help me? he asked a passerby and the person said no for haste of a promise to be someplace when a bell chimed the hour of agreement.

He walked. Saw great bridges. They rose in heightful beauty to grant ships entrance to canals that connected lakes that took their fill of rivers and gave the rest back to the sea.

An old woman sat on a church step and proclaimed in a loud voice that all the institutions had emptied and all the once wrong people were now right. She called for a moratorium on reality and promised to hang the sane from pier pilings that they may trouble her no more.

The man who had seen the final fire in the world approached the woman on the step and told her that he had recently arrived in citylight from darkness. He stumbled, he said. Perplexed. The metropolis enigmatic. Like something he should know but altered. She said have a seat and they sat together on the brickwork.

The woman said the mindful who walked with grace were torment and that they must be purged but the man disagreed for he had found blessing. Unsure of his bearings but blindness cured.

I don’t know where I am, he said and she said yes you do. You’re here with me on church steps that climb to altars where emptiness pleads for meaning that cannot exist.

No, he said. I was young and now I’m old. Once in darkness now in light. I don’t know my name.

Go then, she said. To find your name and with it your true self. She waved her hand. Bother me no more.

The man who had seen the final fire in the world stood, said goodbye and walked further into the web of city streets that jumbled like colorful pens on the floor.

Five blocks, six blocks, seven. A sign read Names and he entered where inside a girl sat surrounded by books with titles like Revolution, Reunion, and Breakthrough. Try this on she said. John. But he said it doesn’t fit it’s too tight may I have one like Arthur? And the girl said yes and Arthur now named as the man who had seen the final fire said thank you and left.

Arthur felt a hunger and a man who wore a yellow coat offered him bread. They sized each other up, scrutinized. They sat on a bench in a triangled plaza with three trees and spoke of a holy ghost. The one of madness, said the man of yellow coat and Arthur the man who had seen the final fire said no. The holy ghost of reason.

Some things cannot be reconciled. You go here and I’ll go there, said yellow coat. And with that their paths diverged.

Nearby an old man wore a hat and read a book with no name. He closed the pages on a finger to mark his spot and told Arthur that the city of open air asylums once had been a harbor of thought where poets and painters gathered in coffee cups and treeshadow to steer the vessel of humanity with their abundant observations of what rang true, what false, and the embellishments that disguised both. But came advances in poorness of perception as advances often march and those who took contemplation with their constitutionals slow drifted to other ports of call.

Where are they now? asked Arthur and the old man answered I am the last.

Outside a shop a man swung a stick and confessed he had unjailed his demons. Arthur asked if he might lend the man fire so his demons might therefore be burnt and beaten but the man professed his love. For what? asked Arthur. Demons. But why? They make me whole.

A woman sat on a bench and stared at the sun. Her eyes flat, steamrolled. Her mouth an open crypt. She spoke only with her fingers. Ten twisted silent orators. Daylight blurred them into staggering shadow puppets on the wall.

Oh lord, said Arthur. Surrounded by firelight and blindness. Encircled by madness, enveloped in judgments of what makes us give up our light. What causes man to renounce his faith. To plant dusk in the heart, entomb the mind. Gutter his senses.

He continued his exploration, his search among sidewalks and ragged ghosts. Indistinct remnants of his forgotten past pursued him. There must be reason here, said Arthur and a young man tugged his sleeve and said I heard what you said. You have branded our city senseless. What has happened here? asked Arthur. Freedom, said the young man. From what? Reality. Why? Each his own. Why? asked Arthur but the young man placed his hands over his eyes and ran away.

So few answers to many questions in the city of open air asylums. Only one book without a name. The devout worshiped lowgods, sold delusions, bought injections. Insanity blood dripped from cheap hotels onto bluetarp shelters and slow flowed congealed into shoes and sandals where it rose to lips that mumbled holycoded words to summon creatures that promised salvation.

It was no longer sufficient to place words in a sequence of solace for those who clawed the sky as if it were a ladder or those who spat on buses. A burden lay upon the world. Its weight created crevices and people tumbled. A tumor had ripened and swollen while Arthur had been blind. It consumed true existence.

Arthur the man who had seen the final fire in the world when he was blind climbed a high tower dedicated to the creation of deceit that created more deceit in a cycle unbroken. He stood on the roof and studied the sprawled city below. Ample beauty. Abundant potential. And yet lost. It lurched between real and unreal, between forgery and truth. Day and night had swapped faces.

Arthur lowered his head, cried for a loss. Unsure if his or theirs.

There it stood. A world of possibility, its opportunity freely surrendered. Its once locked doors to madness battered down. Maybe, Arthur thought, he was better blinded. Alone with his fragmented thoughts in the darkness. To make his own earth in the void. His own dark life of braille.

Maybe one day he could return and search again. All things must heal. Or if not, they must be destroyed by the final fire in the world. And from ash and red clay renewed. Recreated.

Arthur returned to the street and retraced his steps. St. Thomas. He climbed the stairwell, entered his cell, undressed. All inside was now without. And like a window that opens both ways all outside was now within. He could no longer say for certain which was which.

= = =