Chapter 9: The Dollhouse

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Review Chain

Reads: 241

Park Avenue was one of the first streets in the city to be domed over. The doming of New York was a last ditch effort to hold on to the surface, after the deluge, when the desert winds started to blow.
As such, the Park Avenue Dome was built to last, a product of old New York City optimism. The dome blocked UV light, the wind, the low oxygen, bitter, cold night air that made even the city sky clear enough to see space. And, of course, it was beautiful. Stretching from the highest peaks of the existing buildings like a great sprawing gemstone shroud. Its thousands of facets refracted sparking light to the streets below. For a golden decade that strip of Park Avenue was known as the Diamond Corrorder. Wealth and technology would hold back the advancing environmental carnage and the sand! Anything was possible! But, sadly, domes would not be enough to save the surface.
Even now, a few trees and shrubs survived on the old median. The awnings where sharply uniformed doormen once stood, hung in tatters, scraps of deep hunter green etched with gold lettering that once proclaimed the names of the stately apartments "The Martlet" "The Mariner" Electric taxis and cars still lined the streets, parked and forever forgotten. Street signs from another era: 76th street, 78th street "1 block to Museum" And even as the first sands swept over the faceted diamond glass roof of the street dome, another world lived on in tatters and shadows below.
The oldest surviving building on that august street (and now the sole outpost of human life) was built in yet another age of optimism. The 1960s, white ceramic-clad bricks, in its heyday once considered offensively modernist, the Chrysalis Building was, for a moment, the city's premiere address.
But, all of that was forgotten, except in one penthouse, perilously close to the glass of the street dome itself, a patch of glass kept clear of the sand even to this day, the three story apartment mansion was set back from the roof of the 25-story apartment building. It had its own landings and terraces, where gardens once grew. It was a time capsule from a New York City that few could remember.
Marta remembered. She liked to begin her day by taking the lift installed on the stairs to the highest point in the three story structure that had come to make up her world. For the past 80 years she'd used a small electric wheelchair, a hopelessly outdated bit of technology in the era of tank generation and support braces. But, as one of the first recipients of longevity therapy, her genome had become far too mutated for augmentative treatments, not without the risk of anaphylaxis. Her doctors were working on it, or so they said. Though, lately she saw the doctors less and less often. A fortune, even one as vast as hers, had imits. After centuries of never thinking about money Marta found herself in the curious position of having to ... budget.
It was a good thing that no one really bothered with property taxes or deliveries to Park Avenue anymore. The block was thought of more in terms of archeology than as a place to live.
It was a good thing she'd illegally wired her own supply of solar power and algal tanks decades ago, along with surface robots to keep the glass dome above clear of sand, making contact with the outside largely unneeded.
She'd also converted the last remnants of her wealth to a combination of untraceable digital currencies and antiques, which she would sell from time to time to raise the funds needed to summon the doctor, or the young man who'd repair and replace the battery in her chair. It couldn't be the same young man, though could it? How long had she been living in this mothballed state?
Nearly a century.
People used to joke about the years slipping by like days when you got over 50, then after getting over 200 or so it was whole decades that threatened to slip by like years...
Were centuries starting to slip by for her too?
Marta remembered when she was never alone in the penthouse. When there were staff in the staff quarters, the chef, the maids, the personal assistants and lifestyle coaches... when there were parties and visitors who didn't expect to be paid, visitors who brought gifts, when people with talent clamored to be around her and her circle. When there was a circle.
She looked at the 700 year-old Steinway grand piano, a heavy antique even when she bought it, (they had to hire a crane to get it up to the living room) She thought about a night years ago when she was bright-eyed and handsome! young man who'd just premiered his first Symphony down at Carnegie hall and played for her and all of her glittering guests, as they gossiped about the doming construction going on outside, over glasses of the new Canadian champaign --and she thought, then, if we can be this happy in a world of uncertainty nothing, nothing will ever take us down.
That night she felt unstoppable.
Marta reached out and gently picked up the piano. It was small enough to hold on her palm. Now why was that? Why was her grand paino so small?
That's right. She sold the original long ago. It was probably 3 levels down in New Paris, the property of some asteroid speculator with more money than sense.
Could she really talk about anyone else having more money than sense? After all she'd been there. In some ways she still was there. If... greatly reduced.
The tiny model piano was a replica, a working replica, though strings at the scale hardy made any sound at all when you tapped the tiny keys. The wood to make it had been taken from the bench of the original. This was back when she'd still hire out some of the more complex model making online. Now she made most of the replicas herself. She'd gotten quite skilled with the tiny chisels, and flocking...
The 1:12 scale model wasn't far from its original location in the house since the living room was dominated by the model she'd constructed of the penthouse... not as it was now, largely empty and dominated by powdered food and medical equipment, but as it was then, when the house was still alive in the best years, before the caverns became popular, before people started to leave. Before most of the people she knew faded or died.
Wasn't there a theorem that said that if you map a set onto itself there must be at least one point that stays in the same place? So her penthouse had been mapped onto itself, contained a model of itself, perhaps the paino was a true fixed point.
But, the model didn't stop at the penthouse. She had a model of the concert hall and of her favorite 5th avenue clothing shops, a model of their boat and the summer house Fire Island. Slowly she had been building a memorial to that old life and her world.
Memorial. Marta didn't like that word. Too morbid. Call it... a memory tribute.
Memory was so difficult. It wasn't that she couldn't remember (neural treatments saw to that.) No, it was that she remembered everything. Memories flooded her mind, interlocking and overlaying each other, growing tangles and tangents and overwhelming her senses. The modeling had a way of fixing certain places and people back in time. Gluing them down. Giving her a feeling of control.
But, it wasn't such a good look that the models had grown to take up much of the penthouse.
At least one doctor, one that she had fired, had the temerity to suggest that she was growing too old, living too long for the sake of her own mind "the human brain simply isn't able to cope with so many experiences" he'd said. "Many people make plans for a graceful exit from life." The nerve! What did he know? He was only 180. And to suggest that she was anything but perfectly sane.
And to the degree that she wasn't sane? She had this rather harmless hobby of building realistic models of things that she remembered.
Marta placed the tiny piano back in it's fixed point location in the model of the living room from centuries away. With tweezers she kept handy on a ribbon around her neck she carefully replaced the sheet music on the music stand, and carefully positioned the lifelike doll of a young man in a satiny tuxedo at the piano.
She positioned the Champagne flute in the hand of another doll and thought about Canadian Champagne. The French had been furious. But if they couldn't make it anymore shouldn't someone keep the tradition going? These days it was probably made underground. Disgusting!
Though Marta had tasted real Champagne in her youth, so she did understand what some of the fuss was about, the stuff from Canada just wasn't the same. Much too sweet and lacking a kind of perfume-like quality that probably had something to do with caves and mediterrainin winds.
Through the faceted glass of the Park Avenue Dome the sun was split in two, casting crazy shadows through the apartment. The only sounds were the winds muffled by the thick diamond glass and the soft whir of Marta's electric wheelchair as she moved to her work room where the delicate tools and glues and tiny bits of wood and paper would allow her to continue to strive to sort the past from the present for another day.


Submitted: October 17, 2020

© Copyright 2022 Susan Donovan. All rights reserved.


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