'On Gravity' by Mark Chu

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(Illustration by Angelo Giunta)

There’s a mountain village called Tjentiste an hour from the Montenegro airport. Its population is growing quickly because of the new tourist demand for the Spomenik, a huge war monument more beautiful than war, two kinked slabs of cement like the heavy wings of a cosmic bird. Grave.

My friend Nico, he’s an engineer who used to work in Gravity, crazy and rich, and lives just with his dog. Nico dearly loves the Spomenik and bought up heaps of the land nearby and built this Ferris Wheel petrol station. He named it Annabelle, after his lost wife. The drivers go to Annabelle for gas, parking their cars in magnetic clasps that carry them up and around in a big revolution, up into the sky, while being pumped with petrol. Most drivers opt to stay in their cars, if they don’t have vertigo, but even though it’s even more expensive at the airport, everyone complains about the prices at Annabelle. Nico watches them complaining as they witness this paradise in the valley where the sun sets the tumbling mountains ripe peach and purple-green, and mist rings their peaks. From the top of Annabelle you can see the Spomenik; the hardened locals take relic for granted.

With his French inclination for profundity Nico once said to me, voice rich and deep, “Putain, I have no single person to love, so I work on giving love to everyone. They say love is a gift – but every gift, gift giver, gift taker; they’re all different. Every gift is given and taken differently – it’s so important to understand all these dimensions, all the dimensions of love – it’s important to make love my science.”

Nico built Annabelle from clear superplastic, 223 feet high, with twelve magnetic vehicle clasps that pump fuming golden petrol. She sits in the dip of a valley so it’s barely an eyesore. Nico lost a lot of money buying the land, carving up the roads, bribing all the officials. He thinks he’s doing charity work, especially for the post-war taxi drivers whose lives are sometimes bleak, driving small Volkswagens worth more than their homes. Some of the drivers take their kids to Annabelle for special birthdays and when Nico hears about a birthday he always comes out wearing his vintage gold Versace sunglasses and gives them an extra turn. When he lets the cars go around twice Nico knows he has to turn the petrol off. Once he left it on for a second revolution and almost blew the whole place up.

He keeps trying to update the pump system, even though it’s totally impractical. The pressure constantly changes as the carriages spin, it’s nearly impossible to understand, let alone profit from. Sometimes I help him with number work even though my supervisor doesn’t allow it. Whether misguided or fantastical, Nico’s beauty rendered me humble.

**

I quickly flipped tabs on my computer when I heard a door-knock.

Marty entered uncalled, British drawl in tow. “Perhaps we’ll descend for a coffee?” He seemed more energised than usual, “There’s a terrific one at this rainbow café.”

“One sec, I’ll just save this, I think I’ve got a new model.”

“Tell me over coffee – boy am I ready for the buzz!”

I shuddered. “Same.”

Every few hours he’d come into my space, to chat or invite me for coffee, and I’d oblige and go downstairs, sit and watch him order his ristretto, condescending to the waitresses, often reciting a tedious definition of ristretto. He was always sleazing all over Japanese girls, who, though never interested, were always too polite to drop him instantly.

“Also, we’re going to rehearse here later, that’s okay?”

“For sure, which instrument?” I said.

“Hover-3, maybe abalone with Aerosol-X.”

“Okay, good one Marty.”

**

I was glad to be rid of him, even for just a moment, and looked out at the view. Our space was near the top of the U-Izado Tower, Tokyo’s highest skyscraper. I walked to the glass wall, peered out and thought about all the space underneath and around, and how if I pressed my face against the cold glass it would make such a small unseen mark, a funny mark. But instead of squashing my face I sat down in a swivel-chair and zoomed around, lunging to and from the extraordinary view, getting dizzy from the thousands of grey buildings below.

On ground level Tokyo’s bustle was strange; every time I gave a smile people looked down at the bitumen and walked quicker. And I wanted that Lost in Translation fantasy, where Scarlett Johansson sits next to you at the bar, though I might’ve preferred a Japanese Scarlett Johansson. I even went to the Park Hyatt but the drinks were so expensive. I felt like an idiot and missed Sophie so much. I dreaded bumping into her somewhere during the convention, somewhere I knew would be awkward and horrible and public, my girl who never made it to the moon.

Thinking about her I nearly cried, after too-quickly drinking my one sad cocktail at the Park Hyatt, lights streaking as I tried to hail a cab, as the streets seemed to get so loud, though the bars were always so quiet, my hotel room always silent. Though my pillows hugged back, in the moments before I fell asleep every night, in that black inward space, Sophie was all I could think about, my love and hate. It filled me with guilt that sometimes I wanted her dead.

**

Marty and I attended the Gravity Convention to raise money for our balloon restaurant. There were seminars and things all throughout Shinjuku; miniature demonstrations of rain reversal harvesting in an alcove under the subway station entrance with crowds of spectators, scalpers selling front-capsule tickets for ‘Centre of the Earth’ sub-seafloor tour packages, thin and oily IT gimps with baggy eyes, retired scientist-couples on holiday walking with wobbly wispy hair and permanent smiles like they’d unlocked some of the universe’s secrets. Every three years it brought over a thousand specialists to Tokyo. Our concept was a mega helium balloon, the shape of an upside-down teardrop, six times the size of Red Bull Stratos, holding an encased chef’s table but with no chef, the food instead prepared and cooked mid-air by hovering robotic instruments. Understanding the cuisine was easier than the science; food is by far the simplest of the arts. 

To read the rest of Mark’s story, grab a copy of TLB20.

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Mark Chu recently had an art show with works made from his own dandruff. He lives in New York.

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Angelo Giunta is a city-based illustrator and artist who sleeps under a staircase, likes animals and listens to Scott Walker.