How a City Disappeared

Madrid was a world famous word and she was rightly proud. Capital of her country and home to four million people. Her delight at being on their lips, in their newspapers and on their street signs never waned.

If anybody, anywhere spoke her name or even thought of it, she existed, and hence she existed almost everywhere. And not limited to just one language like most words. She was as close to being universal as nearly any other word to be found in a dictionary or encyclopaedia. And if she was aware that a great deal of her fame outside of her boundaries was due to her football team, something that for many people turned a name on a map into something Real, it did not dampen her pride. She really couldn’t ask for much more.

However there was one small thing that bothered her, although it didn’t make a big difference to her as a whole and in fact only really affected her last letter. As a family is made up of family members then a word is made up of letters, each with its own responsibilities, needs and feelings. Now many ‘d’s have a hard time of it in Spain, often treated the same way as ‘t’s in English. They are constantly ignored and unspoken, and the last letter of Spain’s great capital was no exception. The vast majority of the madrileños talked of their city in terms of  five letters, not six. ‘Madri’ was the usual way they talked about their capital.

The city’s final ‘d’ had lived with this situation for as long as he could remember but it didn’t make it any easier. He took some comfort in the fact that those without the very accent that had developed within the city spoke of him far more often. Madrid as a six-letter word existed more consistently outside of her country than within it. But this was not enough to keep ‘d’ happy and he grew more and more discontent.

He started muttering about having had enough. “If they don’t want me, then I’ll just go. You five can obviously get by without me so what’s the point in staying?”

The rest of the city’s letters didn’t take him too seriously. Abandoning his word-mates? Unheard of!

But ‘d’ kept on. He started conspiratorially whispering to his neighbouring ‘i’ about leaving together. “We could have our very own identity! Be an ID!” he urged.

‘i’ was having none of it however, very well aware and proud that he, of all the letters in the city, was the one on which people placed the most emphasis.

 ‘d’ was undeterred by ‘i’s rebuttal. Doctors and overdoses were other possibilities that he mentioned. “If I could just find the right partner” he moaned, but the other letters never actually believed he would do it.

Madri this. Madri that. In the end however it just became too much for him, and he left. Madrid was no more. The six letters were now just five.

‘i’ recounted to ‘r’ what had happened. “At first I didn’t really realise what was happening” ‘i’ said. “But before I knew it he was sailing off into the distance without even so much as a goodbye wave!”

The news spread quickly. ‘r’ told the middle ‘d’ (“Your brother’s gone!”) who let ‘a’ know, who in turn broke the news to ‘M’.

“What are we gonna do!” ‘r’ had always been a nervous type and he was having trouble holding it together. His tension was contagious and it spread to his neighbours. Both ‘d’ and ‘i’ were jittery too.

It was left to the first two letters to soothe their nerves. ‘M’ and ‘a’ when working together had always had a calming influence, fulfilling the role of a parent that every family needs and the rest of the letters appreciated it. “Listen. We can live with this! We’re not the first family to lose a member and we won’t be the last. We’ll just have to put up with it and get on with our lives. Who knows? ‘d’ might even come back.”

The other letters’ fears were silenced for a while after listening to ‘Ma’. At least until ‘i’ spoke. “I’m sorry to be so pessimistic but I really don’t think he’ll be back” he told the others. “It was something he said as he was floating away; about finding a ‘c’ and making music together. He seemed so sure about it.”

The nerves returned immediately and try as they might ‘Ma’ could not calm them. Then, suddenly all hell broke loose. Seeing that the first two letters were having little success in keeping control, ‘d’ decided to join in. And the three of them went crazy. They completely lost it.

‘r’ looked on in horror at ‘Mad’, petrified that their precarious family situation was going to break up completely and that he would be launched out into an unknown world as an individual letter, having to eke out an existence in Scrabble or on Countdown. He worried too about the four million inhabitants who would be left without a home if their city ceased to exist.

‘i’ was nervous as well, but he had always had the reassurance that most other letters did not – that many of his brothers lived happily in the English-speaking world as sole entities. The terrible possibility of the city ceasing to exist was tempered by his knowledge that he alone would be all right. He felt a bit guilty by this selfish attitude but he was also vaguely aware that it was in an ‘i’s nature to be like this and that there was nothing he could do about it.

As ‘Mad’ continued to rant and rave like a lunatic, ‘r’ became more and more desperate. He had to stop them and their insanity and the only way he could imagine of doing this was to take the most dangerous step of his life. A leap into the unknown for him and his family. A leap over ‘d’ to break the three of them up.

He looked up at ‘d’s high back and his heart sank. He would never be able to scale such heights. He could see no way to make it up and over. Until ‘i’ spoke again.

“I know what you’re thinking and I reckon I can help” he said, trying to control the fear in his voice. Despite his egotistical plan B, ‘i’ really did not want to have to resort to it. “If you first climb up me, you might be able to jump from my dot and grab hold of the top of ‘d’. It’s at least worth a try, don’t you think?”

‘r’ breathed deeply. “Ok. Let’s give it a go.” He carefully inched his way up his neighbour until he reached the dot. ‘M’, ‘a’ and ‘d’ were completely unaware of the plan, totally engrossed in their own craziness.

Getting on top of ‘i’s dot proved very difficult. The dot was highly unstable and ‘i’ had to use all his mental strength and discipline to control its movement. Eventually ‘r’ made it on top, waving his one arm about to try and keep his balance. Once he was settled he looked over to ‘d’ and a surge of confidence coursed through him. He could do this. He could leap the great divide that was the space where he had spent his entire life, and grab the top of ‘d’. He was unsure how ‘d’ would react and he mentally rehearsed the movement of swinging over the top, and squeezing in beside ‘a’. He would have to be quick before ‘d’ had time to throw him off.

One last moment of doubt was washed away as ‘r’ considered the consequences of not acting, and he jumped. It seemed an age that he was in mid-air, hearing ‘i’s shouts of encouragement from behind, before he slammed into the top of ‘d’.

“What the..?!” ‘d’ exclaimed but ‘r’ was too quick for him. He was up and over, bouncing off ‘d’s fat belly and into the narrow space next to ‘a’. ‘Mad’ was no longer and the lunacy died down immediately. ‘r’ breathed a big sigh of relief as ‘Ma’ once again took control of things.

“Thanks ‘r’” everyone said, realising that they could now get back to some kind of existence as the Spanish capital. But it was too late.

Madrid as a word had ceased to exist with ‘d’s abandonment but as Madri they would probably have been able to keep it together as a city, simply appearing as a spelling mistake in Atlases and most likely madrileños themselves would have been completely unaware of the change. But they were no longer Madri, and the effect was devastating.

Maps everywhere now showed nothing but countryside in the middle of Spain. Encyclopaedias had an unexplained gap in the M section that no-one could figure out. But worst of all, four million people wandered about on an empty space where their once proud city had been, at a total loss to explain where it had gone. There was simply nothing there. No streets, no houses, no shops, no cars. The city had vanished before their very eyes.

And what of the five letters themselves? What became of them? None of them blamed ‘r’ for the consequences of his actions. Each letter was adamant that he would have done the same in that position. And at least they did still have an existence, even if it was only for a seventh of their previous life. They had had to move country and change language but they had plenty of time to get used to it, queuing up every week behind Lundi and in front of Mercredi to play their part for 24 hours.

From Spanish capital to French day.

From Madrid to Madri to Mardi.

That is how a city disappeared.

~ by yearzerowriters on January 13, 2010.

11 Responses to “How a City Disappeared”

  1. Amazing! It was funny, original, and made me think. What do we say about united we stand, divided…?
    I think this is an awesome piece. I really enjoyed it. I’ve never read anything else like it (in a good way).
    Anne LG

  2. I grew up in Madri’ and I apologize to the ‘d’ for having left him out.

  3. Thsi is an extraordinary peice, Simon. In a very good way

  4. I’m so glad you like it. I was a bit worried people might just read and go ‘eh?’ So thank you!

  5. This is witty and quirky. Loved it.

  6. Peculiar in the very best way!

  7. It was like staring at the Hollywood sign up in the hills and seeing each letter one by one being shot out, or if they were illuminated, seeing their lights go out. This totally works in its own terms and plays with the building blocks of language in a way after my own heart.


  8. As usual, you make me think about objects in ways I would never have otherwise. I laughed out loud several times. After ‘r’ jumped over ‘d’, I thought there was going to be a shift to New Orleans. *grin* As usual, magnifico!

  9. I have a couple more of these letter-based shorts, and you’re giving me great encouragement to write others. Thanks all.

  10. Whatever you’re on Simon, I want some!

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