Counting Bridges in Königsberg

for Isabel

Gangly, mathematical Sheila walks to clear her head, not fast or well, but persistently, a determined awkward shuffle that covers any amount of ground eventually. She’s got a map in her rooms of the city with each road she’s walked traced in red; it’s a dead heat whether she’ll span the city or finish her dissertation first.

There are three main forks of the river in Albion, tumbledown Albion at the bottom of the cliffs where the underground river ate the chalk to nothing to get itself more room for its wedding to the winedark sea, and the Student’s Quarter lies on a vague shape of land between two forks, too broad to be called an island. She pauses at the top of the Terpene Bridge and looks south; Green territory that way is flagged by bundles of rosemary, sage, and cannabis that hang from the wrought iron gates that block each doorway.

She could be feared—going into town is always a risk, the students are not best beloved—but she is awkward and innocuous and ragged and no one has bothered her yet. She fills her lungs with the moist air of the river, the oppressive heat of the summer, squints east at the sea, west at the cliffs, names the seventy-two Lords of Hell and the thirteen planets that rule them, and descends.