‘Indentical City’

Joshua Cohen



In this city, triplets are invariably tied together. Whether at the wrists or at the ankles, around the waist or neck, groups of three whether related or not are to be found invariably bound to one another with rope, string, twine or, once, rubber thongs. Often they, “the triplets” as they’re referred to, are knotted together in a disposition that forces all parties to face in, engendering a circle or semicircle, a huddled gather in which they can communicate and transact in safety, in private. It’s important to understand, or so I’ve been told by a visiting physician with whom I shared a table at breakfast at our hotel, that each party is bound not to another party, but to two other parties, hence increasing interaction within the group (and so, decreasing such with the without), and what he referred to as “inter-responsibility”…I do not understand, though this doctor went on to explain: When one party expires, an officer of the law arrives to remove him or her (groups of threes are always “sex-sensitive”), while that officer’s partner conducts the remnant of the group to one of many poles. These poles, each to a designated group, are apparently erected by government, assigned by lottery, but then decorated at private expense. This pole becomes the third party to the group, hence rendering the collective stationary, with each of the remaining members hitched to its length. When a second, penultimate, member of the collective expires, he or she is not replaced. Instead, an officer or his or her partner ties the loose ends off to the pole, and adds two other bonds of a rare, expensive, and extremely strong (if toxic) material. With all limbs tethered to the pole, the last party expires, soon — victim to violence, and violent rape — though is said to have eventually become “one with the pole.”


Jana is thirteen, she is just beginning to grow into her skin: the city’s summer swells her breasts with sweat and muscle, her hair is greasy and growing longer by the day. With green eyes, and fair skin, she is a beauty. Rebellious, certainly, but very smart. (Or so I observed, but they told me this, too.) Lara, though also in her early teens, seems younger, physically, and in what Jana calls “her philosophy.” Her, Lara’s, eyes are dark, her skin is darker. Her hair is haphazardly styled, rattyshort and dry. Still, to each other Jana and Lara are twins, identical. Their mother, since dead, burned one once with a cigarette to tell them apart before she abandoned them on the stoop of the hotel at which we met (in the lobby, one night, very late). Jana says Mom burned Lara, who of course says Jana. Neither can find the burn, nor identify it, from among their very many burns. As the city is dangerous, they must stick together, stay close: They’ve had themselves pierced, I won’t reveal where (neither will they), and their piercings are either interlocked, two rings one on each of them rung into one another (Lara), or else are connected through the agencies of a very short chain (Jana), a loooooooong chain (Lara), and so on. However, they both agree that they did the piercings themselves. As they wander the streets of the city in search of sustenance and heat, they stagger even after much rehearsal, practice: they seem like they’re always leaning on each other, propping one another up, throwing themselves forward while one sits in the other’s lap.


Dear Marna,

Here’s how you go crazy and lose it in a city that’s strange. First, you check in and tell the frontdesk clerk your wife will be coming by later that night, or the next morning and, “Can you please just send her up?” Then, the next morning after breakfast ask the clerk if she’s called and left a message, and when he or she the clerk says no, seem agitated, but only slightly. Allow your agitation to increase throughout the afternoon, calling down to the desk every hour. On your way to dinner, however, tell the night clerk — in person, with a whiskeysour whisper — that your lover “might be dropping in, too,” and that he or she shouldn’t tell your wife about her, the lover, if she, your wife, would ever happen to call, or finally arrive. Returned to your room, continue making calls through the evening, asking after both. For your next breakfast, order room service, splurge. Ask for it for six a.m. That’s who’ll find the body — not the morning clerk, but that bellboy with the muscles, knifely lips, bluegreen eyes and dyed blonde hair.
Before digging up the gun from the duffel, sit down and write two letters. To a lover. To a wife.

Read more from Cohen on Fanzine here, and check the author’s personal site joshuacohen.org for more info on his other available work.