The Iron Hand with the Silver Door, the Bronze Airship made of Snails, and the Granite Flagstone containing Verses constitute the sole credible proof that the Floating City anchored at Palermo Harbour 86 years, four months and 12 days ago, remaining there until the last of its denizens afflicted by epileptic love fits were entirely cured. The customs records state that the three objects were pledged by the Floating City in return for supplies of salt, fresh meat, water, and vegetables. The terms of the bond were that the items were to be held by the customs authorities until the deliveries were duly settled in generally acceptable, recognised bills of exchange. How, whence, and why the Floating City appeared at Palermo Harbour is the subject of an account by its Captain, Lucrecio Secula, duly signed by him as faithful. Here it is:
The bell to signal sailing off rang a little while before dawn at the hour of pronouncing non-existent words. Its deep-toned sound broke through the mist over the harbour and nobody was surprised at that. Everybody had known for months now that two of the inhabitants in the town, Pepe Sanchez and Nasko H, the court artist, had been suffering from the epilepsy of requited love. It was only a matter of time for a third person to appear and to make it necessary for the town to sail into the open sea. The last few days brought to the suspicion that it could be either Lorenzo Laporta, the telegraph operator at the Customs, or Bronislav Vazheha, the tobacco trader. They had been seen to walk across the sunny square, leaving no shadows behind them and get lost in the small streets, leading to the hills of the town, which was a definite sign that everybody had to prepare their houses for a long voyage. Those who were provident went downstairs to their cellars and oiled the pulleys of their anchors. Others stretched the storm sails out in their backyards and set to oversew the parts which had been frayed by the ropes. Still others took out the plate-tables with the maps for travelling to lands of oblivion and stared at them intently with eyes unable to see.
Nobody had expected George Horazius, the itinerant preacher, to be the cause for urgently weighing anchors. He had arrived in Valparaiso a month ago and had been preaching upon the unprincipled honesty in front of the drowsy listeners at the poorhouse, but the effect of his sermons was doubtful. Until one afternoon, very appropriate for counting dandelions, he saw Dalaila, the mute ticket-seller at the town zoo, crossing the street in front of the cafe at the poorhouse, called “The Old Silk Factory”. She was wearing a poppy-flowered dress, and her body could be a sufficient excuse at the face of God. His look turned into a clear blue wind and twirled over the dozy harbour, then raised to the white clouds, gathered moisture and strength, lowered for an instant over the hills and then swooped down so as to snatch the poppies on her dress in his hand, paying no attention to the fact that upon each of their leaves she had written his itinerant name.
The previous time, when in Valparaiso there were three people happily fallen in love, the town and the houses floated for more than four months and cast anchors only after they had reached Istanbul. There, invisible to the inhabitants and open to the constant wind over the Bospherus, they spent 2 years, 3 months and 14 days until finally, Ernesto Vilar, the postman and Mercedes, his fiancée, had learned to put up with requited love, without having the desire to commit suicide. Only after that did they return impossibly back to their home town with the sound of the bell this morning.
The old town legend tells that the presence of three couples of lovers turns the other inhabitants into shadows and the only salvation is to move the town to a new place until at least two of the diseased had completely recovered. Some of the old men remembered that because of Koivo Hironen, the ship-mechanic and Dolores, the beautiful whore, they had to spend 34 whole years at the harbour of Genoa, until the merciful fate had put an end to their love affair with one stab of a knife during a dice-play fight.
One can see them on the flat roofs of their houses, on the balconies with the iron flowers, partly hidden behind the flying curtains on their windows. At some places the women open colourful paper umbrellas to protect themselves against the sun and the thought of poppies, flying in the air. In the womb of the house the men coil the thick ropes around the pulleys, release the heavy metal counterweights and slowly begin to raise the anchors, cast deeply into the earth. The town sways gently and begins to slide down the slopes of the hills towards the water. A splash is heard, the first wave hits into the protective wave of the harbour and humbly steps back. A few more waves and all the houses are under the water, waiting for the white hand of fate to give them blessing for their long voyage. Their invincible armada is swaying in the wind. Their holds are full of salty meat and rum. They are aware that they are setting out on the long voyage of coming back and they are calm. Even George Horazius is calm, but for the first time ever he doesn’t know why. The white Dalaila, standing next to him, knows why but nobody has asked her about it so far.
They set off with the light wind of separation, and behind them the salt letters of the history slowly begin to appear.