Meran is a city near Venice. It is made of meringue. There are lemon canals.
“Do not eat the city,” caution the signs. “Simon says!” But this does not stop anyone. There are tourists who come all the way from America or Sri Lanka simply to eat Meran. They consider this delightfully scandalous, as if they were breaking off ancient Roman architecture and popping it in their mouth. There are residents too impoverished for discretion, and dogs and cats incapable of it. For all these reasons the meringue is often eaten.
There is a cook’s guild in Meran. Its chief cook is Simon—the very Simon of the sign. He is broad-framed and red-cheeked but surprisingly thin. He eats well but anxiety preys on him.
“The aqueduct has fallen,” cook’s apprentice Marguerite tells him.
“It is the gnashing teeth of tourists,” Marguerite says. “Gnawing in the night.”
“Can the police do nothing?”
Marguerite is silent. The police of Meran are notoriously bribable.
“Very well,” says Simon. “Another twelve thousand eggs. Another thousand cups of sugar. Another merin, for me.”
Merins are magical creatures that help make sense of the world. They aren’t actually cooked into the meringue, except once, by accident, and that wasn’t Simon’s fault.
“We could use stone and wood,” Marguerite says.
“How long can we keep this up, Simon?”
Simon’s eyes are haunted.
There’s a knock on the door. “Simms to see you, sir,” says Simon’s secretary Stacy.
“Let him in.”
Mr. Simms enters. He’s an ugly man. He’s wearing a nice gray suit and his features are nice enough, but something slimy lives behind his face.
“The meringue is seeping down again, Simon,” he says.
Mr. Simms’ eyes narrow. “Yes. In Ogbota Lake. Beneath the business district. The things that live there are quite disturbed.”
Simon rubs at the bridge of his nose. “I seem to recall that that area is marked as uninhabited,” he says. After a moment, he adds, “On the charts.”
Mr. Simms shrugs. “We are a thriving people,” he says. “We need our space.”
“But the rot is within the normal levels?”
“Be reasonable, Simon,” Mr. Simms oozes. “If the meringue drips into the city below, then it can’t seal the rot from the city above. It’s bad for both of us.”
Simon looks at Mr. Simms bleakly. But he will not show weakness. “I could lay down an extra layer above,” he says. “The businessmen would only laugh as meringue washes over their feet, you know, and tell me, ‘This tickles.'”
“And I could prick the flesh of the god that sleeps below,” Mr. Simms says, “and leak its rot into the lake until the sugar is annulled.”
“That would bring it closer to waking,” says Simon. “He’ll eat your people first.”
Mr. Simms hesitates. “We could help you with your tourist problem,” he says.
Simon closes his eyes. He puts his head down on the desk.
Ten seconds later, he lifts his head. He looks quite strangely small.
“I’ll bolster the meringue,” Simon says. “I’ll get the money from somewhere. God. I wish I could accept, but no. Just . . . get out of here.”
Mr. Simms hesitates.
“Sometimes,” he says, “it seems as if my people—never understand—how much it is that I do for them.”
Simon’s eyes meet Mr. Simms. He smiles a little, involuntarily. Then he scowls.
“Go,” Simon says.